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Ed McMahon

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Title: Ed McMahon  
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Subject: Concentration (game show), The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson, TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes
Collection: 1923 Births, 2009 Deaths, Actors from Lowell, Massachusetts, American Comedians, American Game Show Hosts, American Military Personnel of the Korean War, American Military Personnel of World War II, American Radio Personalities, Boston College Alumni, Catholic University of America Alumni, Disease-Related Deaths in California, Game Show Announcers, People from Avalon, New Jersey, People from Detroit, Michigan, People from Lowell, Massachusetts, People from Upper Darby Township, Pennsylvania, Recipients of the Air Medal, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, United States Army Generals, United States Marine Corps Officers, United States Marine Corps Reservists, United States Naval Aviators
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Ed McMahon

Ed McMahon
McMahon in November 2005
Born Edward Peter McMahon, Jr.
(1923-03-06)March 6, 1923
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Died June 23, 2009(2009-06-23) (aged 86)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Nationality American
Education Boston College
Alma mater The Catholic University of America
Occupation Comedian, actor, singer, game show host, announcer, spokesman
Years active 1957–2009
Notable work The Tonight Show, Star Search, TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes
Home town Lowell, Massachusetts, U.S.
Spouse(s) Alyce Ferrill (1945–1974)
Victoria Valentine (1976–1989)
Pam Hurn (1992–2009)
Military career
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Marine Corps
USMC Reserves
Years of service 1941–1966
Rank Colonel
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War

Edward Leo Peter "Ed" McMahon, Jr. (March 6, 1923 – June 23, 2009) was an American comedian, actor, singer, game show host and announcer. He is most famous for his work on television as Johnny Carson's sidekick, announcer, and second banana on The Tonight Show from 1962 through 1992. He also hosted the original version of the talent show Star Search from 1983 to 1995. He co-hosted TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes with Dick Clark from 1982 to 1998. He also presented sweepstakes for the direct marketing company American Family Publishers (not, as is commonly believed, its main rival Publishers Clearing House).[1][2]

McMahon annually co-hosted the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. In the 1970s and 1980s, he anchored the team of NBC personalities conducting the network's coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. McMahon appeared in several films, including The Incident, Fun With Dick and Jane, Full Moon High, and Butterfly, as well as briefly in the film version of Bewitched. He also performed in numerous television commercials. According to Entertainment Weekly, McMahon is considered one of the greatest "sidekicks".[3]


  • Early years 1
    • Military service 1.1
    • The Catholic University of America 1.2
  • Entertainment career 2
    • The Tonight Show 2.1
    • Star Search 2.2
    • Other roles 2.3
  • Personal life 3
    • Marriage and children 3.1
    • Financial problems 3.2
    • Health problems 3.3
  • Death 4
  • Books 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early years

McMahon was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Edward Leo Peter McMahon, Sr., a fund-raiser and entertainer, and his wife Eleanor (Russell) McMahon.[4] He was raised in Lowell, Massachusetts. McMahon began his career as a bingo caller in Maine when he was fifteen. Prior to this, he worked as a carnival barker for three years in Mexico, Maine. He put himself through college as a pitchman for vegetable slicers on the Atlantic City boardwalk. His first broadcasting job was at WLLH-AM in his native Lowell and he began his television career in Philadelphia at WCAU-TV.[5]

Military service

McMahon hoped to become a United States Marine Corps fighter pilot. Prior to the US entry into World War II, however, both the Army and Navy required two years of college for their pilots program. McMahon enrolled into classes at Boston College and studied there from 1940–41. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, the college requirement was dropped, and McMahon immediately applied for Marine flight training. His primary flight training was in Dallas, followed by fighter training in Pensacola, where he also earned his carrier landing qualifications. He was a Marine Corps flight instructor for two years, finally being ordered to the Pacific fleet in 1945. However, his orders were canceled after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, forcing Japan's surrender unconditionally.

As an officer in the reserves, McMahon was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. This time, he flew the OE-1 (the original Marine designation for the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog), an unarmed single-engine spotter plane. He functioned as an artillery spotter for the Marine batteries on the ground and as a forward controller for the Navy and Marine fighter bombers. He flew a total of 85 combat missions, earning six Air Medals. After the war, he stayed with the Marines, as a reserve officer, retiring in 1966 as a colonel. In 1982 he received a state commission as a brigadier general in the California Air National Guard, an honorific awarded to recognize his support for the National Guard and Reserves.[6][7]

The Catholic University of America

After World War II, McMahon studied at The Catholic University of America under the GI Bill and graduated in 1949. He majored in speech and drama while studying under the Rev. Gilbert Hartke and was a member of Phi Kappa Theta fraternity. After graduation, McMahon led the effort to raise funds for a theater to be named for Hartke, and attended its dedication in 1970 with Helen Hayes and Sidney Poitier.[8]

While working as Johnny Carson's sidekick during The Tonight Show, McMahon served as the president of the national alumni association from 1967–1971 and would often return to campus, especially for homecoming.[8] During the University's centennial celebration in 1987, McMahon and comedian Bob Newhart performed.[8] He received an honorary Doctor of Communication Arts in 1988. "I owe so much to CU," McMahon once said. "That's where my career got its start."[8]

Today, the Ed McMahon Endowed Scholarship helps outstanding students and provides scholarship assistance to juniors and seniors who are pursuing a bachelor's degree in either the Department of Drama or the Department of Media Studies within the School of Arts and Sciences.[8]

Entertainment career

The Tonight Show

McMahon and Johnny Carson first worked together as announcer and host on the ABC-TV daytime game show Who Do You Trust? (1957–1962). McMahon and Carson left the show to join The Tonight Show on October first, 1962. He describes what happened when the pair first met, the whole meeting being "... about as exciting as watching a traffic light change".[9] For almost 30 years, McMahon introduced the The Tonight Show with a drawn-out "Heeere's Johnny!" His booming voice and constant laughter alongside the "King of Late Night" earned McMahon the nickname the "Human Laugh Track" and "Toymaker to the King". As part of the introductory patter to The Tonight Show, McMahon would state his name out loud, pronouncing it as , but neither long-time cohort Johnny Carson nor anyone else who interviewed him ever seemed to pick up on that subtlety, usually pronouncing his name .

Aside from his co-hosting duties, it also fell upon McMahon during the early years of Carson's tenure to host the first half hour of Tonight which did not air nationally. McMahon also served as the a guest host on at least one occasion, substituting for Carson during a week of programs that aired between July 29 and August 2, 1963, and again for two nights in October 1963.

McMahon served as a counter to the notoriously shy Carson. Nonetheless, McMahon once told an interviewer that after his many decades as an emcee, he would still get "butterflies" in his stomach every time he would walk onto a stage, and would use that nervousness as a source of energy.

His famous opening line to each show "Heeere's Johnny!" was used in the 1980 Horror film The Shining by the character Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson) as he attacks his wife and child with an axe.

Star Search

He was also host of the successful weekly syndicated series Star Search, which began in 1983 and helped launch the careers of numerous actors, singers, choreographers, and comedians. He stayed with the show until it ended in 1995, and in 2003, he made a cameo appearance on the revival of the CBS show, hosted by his successor, Arsenio Hall.

Other roles

McMahon at the premiere of Air America, 1990

McMahon was the co-host of the long-running annual Labor Day weekend MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon. His 41st and last appearance was in 2008, making him second only to Lewis himself in number of appearances.[10] McMahon and Dick Clark hosted the television series (and later special broadcasts of) TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes on NBC from 1982–98, when Clark decided to move the production of the series to ABC.

In 1967, McMahon had a role in the film The Incident. From 1965 to 1969, McMahon was communicator (host) of the Saturday afternoon segment of Monitor, the weekend news, features and entertainment magazine on the NBC Radio Network. McMahon had a supporting role in the original 1970's version of the movie "Fun With Dick & Jane" and played himself in Steven Spielberg's 1986 Amazing Stories Season 1: Episode 10  ("Remote Control Man").[11] In 2004, he became the announcer and co-host of Alf's Hit Talk Show on TV Land. He has authored two memoirs, Here's Johnny!: My Memories of Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship as well as For Laughing Out Loud. Over the years, he emceed the game shows Missing Links, Snap Judgment, Concentration, and Whodunnit!. McMahon hosted Lifestyles Live, a weekend talk program aired on the USA Radio Network. He also appeared in the feature documentary film, Pitch People, the first motion picture to take an in-depth look at the history and evolution of pitching products to the public. In the early 2000s, McMahon made a series of Neighborhood Watch public service announcements parodying the surprise appearances to contest winners that he was supposedly known for. (In fact, it is not clear whether the company McMahon fronted, American Family Publishers, regularly performed such unannounced visits, as opposed to Publishers Clearing House and its oft-promoted "prize patrol".)

Towards the end of the decade, McMahon took on other endorsement roles, playing a rapper for a commercial[12] and in a Cash4Gold commercial alongside MC Hammer. McMahon was also the spokesman for Pride Mobility, a leading power wheelchair and scooter manufacturer. His final film appearance was in the independent John Hughes themed rom-com Jelly as Mr. Closure alongside actress Natasha Lyonne. Mostly in the 1980s through the 1990s, McMahon was the spokesperson for Colonial Penn Life Insurance Company.

Personal life

Marriage and children

McMahon married Alyce Ferrell on July 5, 1945, while he was serving as a flight instructor in the Marines;[13] the couple had four children: Claudia (b. 1946), Michael Edward (1951–1995), Linda and Jeffrey.[14] In 1972, they separated, and in 1974 they divorced.[15] McMahon married Victoria Valentine on March 6, 1976.[16] They adopted a daughter in 1985: Katherine Mary. The couple divorced in 1989; McMahon paid $50,000 per month in spousal and child support.[17] On February 22, 1992, three months before his Tonight Show run came to a close, in a ceremony held near Las Vegas,[17] McMahon married Pamela "Pam" Hurn, a 37-year-old mother of a son named Lex. McMahon's daughter Katherine served as best person at the wedding. McMahon adopted his wife's son, making his name Lex McMahon. Pam Hurn McMahon was widowed in 2009 at the death of Ed McMahon, and spoke at his funeral.

McMahon was a longtime summer resident of Avalon, New Jersey.[18]

Financial problems

In June 2008, it was announced that McMahon was $644,000 behind on payments on $4.8 million in mortgage loans and was fighting to avoid foreclosure on his multimillion-dollar Beverly Hills home.[19] McMahon was also sued by Citibank for $180,000. McMahon appeared on Larry King Live on June 5, 2008 with his wife to talk about this situation. In the interview, McMahon's wife Pam said that people assumed that the McMahons had so much money because of his celebrity status. Pamela McMahon also commented that they do not have "millions" of dollars.[20] On July 30, 2008, McMahon's financial status suffered another blow. According to Reuters, McMahon failed to pay divorce attorney Norman Solovay $275,168, according to a lawsuit filed in the Manhattan federal court. McMahon and his wife, Pamela, hired Solovay to represent Linda Schmerge, his daughter from another relationship, in a "matrimonial matter," said Solovay's lawyer, Michael Shanker.[21]

On August 14, 2008, real estate mogul Donald Trump announced that he would purchase McMahon's home from Countrywide Financial and lease it to McMahon, so the home would not be foreclosed.[22] McMahon agreed instead to a deal with a private buyer for his hilltop home, said Howard Bragman, McMahon's former spokesman. Bragman declined to name the buyer or the selling price, but he said it is not Trump. "For Mr. Trump, this acquisition was not business-related, but, as he has stated, was meant to help out an American icon," said Michael Cohen, special counsel to Trump. "If another buyer should emerge who will create the benefit Mr. Trump sought for Ed McMahon, then he is clearly pleased." In early September, after the second buyer's offer fell through, Trump renewed his offer to purchase the home.[23]

Health problems

On April 20, 2002, McMahon sued his insurance company for more than $20 million, alleging that he was sickened by toxic mold that spread through his Beverly Hills house after contractors failed to properly clean up water damage from a broken pipe. McMahon and his wife, Pamela, became ill from the mold, as did members of their household staff, according to the Los Angeles County Superior Court suit. The McMahons blamed the mold for the death of the family dog, Muffin. Their suit, the latest of many in recent years over toxic mold, was filed against American Equity Insurance Co., a pair of insurance adjusters, and several environmental cleanup contractors. It sought monetary damages for alleged breach of contract, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. On March 21, 2003, the long legal battle ended with McMahon being awarded $7.2 million from several companies who were negligent for allowing toxic mold into his home, sickening him and his wife and killing their dog.[24]

McMahon was injured in 2007 in a fall and, in March 2008, it was announced he was recovering from a broken neck and two subsequent surgeries. He later sued Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and two doctors claiming fraud, battery, elder abuse, and emotional distress, and accused them of discharging him with a broken neck after his fall in 2007 and later botching two neck surgeries.

On February 27, 2009 it was reported that McMahon had been in an undisclosed Los Angeles hospital (later confirmed as Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center) for almost a month. He was listed in serious condition and was in the intensive care unit. His publicist told reporters that he was admitted for pneumonia at the time, but could not confirm nor deny reports that McMahon had been diagnosed with bone cancer.[25]


McMahon died on June 23, 2009, shortly after midnight at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. He was 86 years old. His nurse, Julie Koehne, RN, stated he went peacefully. No formal cause of death was given, but McMahon's publicist attributed his death to the many health problems he had suffered over his final months.[26] McMahon had said that he still suffered from the injury to his neck in March 2007.[27]

Conan O'Brien paid tribute to McMahon on The Tonight Show later that night, saying "It is impossible, I think, for anyone to imagine 'The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson' without Ed McMahon. Ed's laugh was really the soundtrack to that show." O'Brien added that McMahon, with Carson, created "the most iconic two-shot in broadcasting history. There will never be anything like that again."[28]

The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia posthumously inducted McMahon into their Hall of Fame in 2010.[5]


  • Ed McMahon's Barside Companion (World Publishing Company, Copyright 1969 by Parthenon Productions, Inc.), Library of Congress #70-94527
  • Ed McMahon's Superselling by Ed McMahon with Warren Jamison (Prentice Hall Press, Copyright 1989 by Ed McMahon), ISBN 0-13-943366-X
  • For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times (Warner Books, 1998), co-written with David Fisher
  • Here's Johnny! My Memories of Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship (Berkley Publishing Group – Penguin Group (USA, Inc.), 2005)

See also


  1. ^ "Setting the Record Straight on Ed McMahon" at the
  2. ^ Joel Keller, "Ed McMahon did not work for Publishers Clearing House," TV Squad, June 23, 2009.
  3. ^ Ben Schott, Schott's Mischellany Calendar 2009 (New York: Workman Publishing, 2008)
  4. ^ "Ed McMahon Biography (1923–2009)". Retrieved January 16, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b "Ed McMahon posthumously inducted into Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame". Retrieved January 16, 2015. 
  6. ^ Deseret News, "It's General Ed", February 24, 1982
  7. ^ Jerry Buck, Associated Press, Youngstown Vindicator, "Shows Keep McMahon Busy Despite Vows to 'Slow Down'", January 15, 1984
  8. ^ a b c d e "CUA Mourns the Passing of Alumnus Ed McMahon". The Catholic University of America. June 23, 2009. Retrieved February 2, 2014. 
  9. ^ Ed McMahon Obituary.
  10. ^ "Longtime MDA Telethon Anchor Ed McMahon Dies". June 23, 2009. 
  11. ^ "Internet Movie Data Base". IMDB. Retrieved May 14, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Ed McMahon turns gangsta rapper".  
  13. ^ Wise, James E.; Rehill, Anne Collier (1999). Stars in the corps: movie actors in the United States Marines. Naval Institute Press. pp. 133–138.  
  14. ^ Social Security Death Index
  15. ^  
  16. ^ McMahon, Ed; Fisher, David (1999). For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times. p. 290. 
  17. ^ a b Laufenberg, Norbert B. (2005). Entertainment Celebrities. Trafford Publishing. p. 442.  
  18. ^ Browne, Greg. "ED MCMAHON DIES; HAD STRONG TIES TO AVALON", WMGM-TV, June 23, 2009, backed up by the Internet Archive as of March 13, 2013. Accessed August 23, 2015. "For 30 years, Ed McMahon was Johnny Carson's loyal sidekick and straight-man on 'The Tonight Show', but what many people may not know is that McMahon was also a loyal fan and summer resident of Avalon for nearly two decades. In the late 1960s McMahon built a summer beach house on 18th Street in which he and his family spent many summers, up until the early 80's."
  19. ^ "Ed McMahon fighting foreclosure on his Beverly Hills home however holds deposits in offshore accounts unaccounted for." AP News; accessed June 4, 2008.
  20. ^ Ed McMahon explains his mortgage mess,, June 6, 2008.
  21. ^ Honan, Edith (July 30, 2008). "Ed McMahon sued over legal bills". Reuters. 
  22. ^ Brenoff, Ann (August 14, 2008). "Donald Trump to buy Ed McMahon’s house". The Los Angeles Times. 
  23. ^ Wells, Jane (September 3, 2008). "Donald Trump 'Still Here To Help' Ed McMahon Stay In House". 
  24. ^ "Ed McMahon Settles Suit Over Mold for $7.2 Million". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 26, 2014. 
  25. ^ Ed McMahon ill with pneumonia,; accessed January 16, 2015.
  26. ^ "American TV star Ed McMahon dies". BBC News. June 24, 2009. Retrieved June 24, 2009. 
  27. ^ Ed McMahon dead at 86,; accessed January 16, 2015.
  28. ^ Barrett, Liz (June 24, 2009). "Conan O'Brien pays tribute to Ed McMahon, dead at 86". Newsroom New Jersey. Retrieved June 24, 2009. 

External links

Media offices
Preceded by
Hugh Downs
The Tonight Show announcer
Succeeded by
Edd Hall
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