Heeeeeere’s Johnny: The Best of Johnny Carson (In The ’80s)

NBC/courtesy Everett Collection

Johnny Carson was still the king of late night in the 1980s, even though he would give up his mantle by 1992. During his last full decade as host of The Tonight Show, Carson still retained the power to launch careers based on appearances on his program, and he still drew in big stars as guests. Here’s a look back at a few of the memorable guests, moments and early appearances from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in the 1980s. Most of these you can check out online on the official Johnny Carson YouTube channel.

Jimmy Stewart and A Dog Named Beau (1981)

On July 28, 1981, legendary actor Jimmy Stewart recited for the first time his poem called “Beau.” It was a humorous and emotional tribute to his deceased golden retriever that had Carson wiping away tears, and it ultimately appeared in a 1989 book of Stewart’s poetry.


Joan Rivers (1983)

Joan Rivers had been a longtime Tonight Show guest (first appearance in 1965), and guest host (among a revolving group of other guest hosts) by the 1980s, but in September 1983, she was named Carson’s permanent guest host. However, a rift developed between them when Rivers left in 1986 to host her own, short-lived late-night show on the fledgling FOX network.


Julio Iglesias/Johnny Carson Duet (1984)

Carson was still doing a fair amount of sketches and visual comedy in the early ’80s, including on June 21, 1984, when he dressed and performed as Willie Nelson (not badly, either!) for a duet with Julio Iglesias on the Iglesias/Nelson hit “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”


Ellen DeGeneres (1986)

Comedian Ellen DeGeneres got her first Tonight Show gig on Nov. 28, 1986, and Carson was so impressed with her performance that he invited her to join him on the couch — a great honor for any comedian, and the first time a female comedian had been invited over by Johnny. Plenty of other now-famous comedians made their first appearances on The Tonight Show in the ’80s, as well, including Jerry Seinfeld (1981), Eddie Murphy (1982), Jim Carrey (1983) and Roseanne Barr (1985).


Potato Chip Collector Myrtle Young (1987)

Along with celebrities, during Johnny Carson’s reign The Tonight Show was also popular for bringing on everyday folks with unique talents or hobbies on occasion. Such was the case on Oct. 16, 1987, when Myrtle Young — who collected potato chips that looked like people and things — came to visit Carson, resulting in one of the more memorable gags in show history. While proudly displaying some of her prized chips to Johnny, Young turned her back, and Carson took the opportunity to bite into a regular chip from his own bowl on the floor. Hearing the crunch, Young looked back in horror, but Carson quickly explained what really happened.


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Classic Comedy Duos

March 2021

Chuckle at television & films funniest comic duos.

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