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When reading or hearing stories about old Hollywood, the place and era start to sound like a fraternity man’s land of milk and honey, or, more accurately, scotch and cocaine. Johnny Carson, the legendary TV late night host, was perhaps one of the greatest embodiments of that. The FIJI from the University of Nebraska was a noted drinker, womanizer, and overall awesome human being. Carson’s lawyer and longtime best friend, Henry Bushkin, has written a biography of sorts about Carson, telling the more sordid and amusing details of their friendship. An excerpt was recently published in this week’s Entertainment Weekly; it makes the book sound incredible.
The story the excerpt relates is one in which Johnny Carson suspected his second wife of cheating on him with Frank Gifford, former pro football player and, at the time, a commentator for Monday Night Football. To find out, Carson went to an apartment that his wife was leasing behind his back, and with Bushkin in tow, the two broke in. While no one was home, they did find several framed photographs of Gifford around the place. The news was devastating to Carson, as Bushkin recounts.
Carson leaned against the living room wall and began to weep. […] I could see that Carson’s raincoat had fallen open. I was shocked to see that Johnny was carrying a .38 revolver in a holster on his hip.
While possibly planning a potential murder/suicide isn’t exactly what I would call a TFM, the way Carson coped with the crushing revelation most certainly was. According to Bushkin, later that night Carson went out, got blackout drunk with Ed McMahon, and dialed up his lawyer at 2:00am to come out and vent about yet another failed marriage. Carson, though upset, knew he wasn’t the greatest husband, and he dropped this choice quote while admitting as much:
I get drunk every night and I chase all the pussy I can get. I’m shitty in the marriage department. Make sure you understand this.
Carson, being the amazingly funny man that he was, couldn’t resist poking fun at the whole situation either.
Why Frank Gifford? What’s that asshole got that I don’t have? That guy plays three positions on the field. I could never get Joanne to go for more than two.
Then, of course, Johnny went and did what he apparently did best and landed a slam for the night, who, according to Bushkin, was an actress who was “nearly as famous as he was.”
Johnny Carson’s life. TFM.