A look back at how late-night hosts Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Craig Ferguson and Stephen Colbert have closed out their shows.


Editor's note: This story by Register reporter Tom Longden is part of our Famous Iowans database, where we feature hundreds of notable names from actor John Wayne to astronaut Peggy Whitson.

Johnny Carson's career was touched by magic. His boyhood interest in magic acts propelled him into show business and his 30-year reign as television's favorite late-night talk-show host.

John William Carson was born in Corning on Oct. 23, 1925, to Ruth and Homer "Kit" Carson. The senior Carson worked for the Iowa-Nebraska Light & Power Co. When Carson was a toddler, the family, which included the boy's sister Catherine and brother Richard, moved to Clarinda. Later came moves to Red Oak, Avoca, and, finally, Norfolk, Neb., when Carson was 8.

After a stint in the Navy, Carson graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1949 and took a job as a disc jockey at Omaha radio station WOW, which soon offered television coverage. 

It was those early days of TV that allowed Carson to develop his calm, unflappable demeanor. Success in Omaha led Carson to Los Angeles, where he concentrated on his work and wife Jody took care of the couple's sons, Chris, Cory and Richard (who died in a car accident in 1991). 

Carson wrote comedy material for Red Skelton and went on in his place when the comedian ran into a door and knocked himself unconscious.


Carson's second major break came when he first subbed for "Tonight" show host Jack Parr in 1958. Carson took over that show on Oct. 1, 1962, after being host of the game show "Who Do You Trust?" He retained the late-night crown until he retired a rich man in 1992.

Carson never forgot his days in Iowa. He donated to community projects in Avoca, Corning, Clarinda and Logan, where his grandfather, Christopher Carson, served as mayor.

Carson's first marriage ended in divorce, as did his second and third, to women named Joanne and Joanna, respectively. He was married for over 14 years to his last wife, Alexis. 

After he left the "Tonight" show, Carson avoided the limelight. He died Jan. 23, 2005, at his home in Malibu, Calif., of emphysema. Carson's nephew said he was surrounded by family members, and that there would be no memorial service.


A $200,000 restoration of the Johnny Carson Birthplace in Corning was unveiled with a celebration for what would have been Johnny Carson's 88th birthday on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013.


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