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scumonkey
June 23rd, 2009, 04:59 PM
Ed McMahon dies at 86


By: Verne Gay | Source: Newsday | June 23, 2009



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Ed McMahon, the greatest second banana in show biz history, died yesterday in Los Angeles after a long illness.

A big convivial man known for his booming laugh, a sort of yodel ("Hi-YOOO"), and the most famous two words in television history - "Heeeeere's Johnny!" - spent the last months of his life a visible symbol of a collapsed economy and the housing crisis that precipitated it, when the bank foreclosed on his $4.8 M mansion in Beverly Hills. Faced with disaster, McMahon did what he always did - he turned pitchman. Among other things, he rapped for a dot com credit service's commercial: "I had money and glory/I bought a house for 6 mil/I thought nothing could touch me/Until my credit went south, and debt started to crunch me/Next thing I know, instead of playing gin rummy, I was scrambling just to make ends meet/It wasn't funny."

See photos of Ed McMahon through the years (http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/news/celebrity/chi-090310-mcmahon-photogallery,0,4086531.photogallery)

McMahon's decline in health and fortune followed a career that was dominated and defined by one man -- Johnny Carson. Over a long Hollywood career, there were commercials, Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes stardom, "Star Search" and a hundred -- if not a thousand -- other gigs, but it was the tie to Johnny that defined McMahon.

To a certain extent, he helped define Carson, as well. As sidekick, second banana - or whatever other lightly pejorative term that described McMahon's role on "Tonight" over thirty years, beginning in 1962 - McMahon helped shape the dynamic of one of TV's great franchises. He was the ready, reliable laugh - the good-natured guy over on the sideline who could soften Johnny's edge, and add warmth when Carson exuded cool. He wasn't a naturally funny man, but he was the perfect companion to a naturally funny man. With McMahon, Carson would have been someone else too, and he knew it. Carson - who could be notoriously short with associates or colleagues whom he determined were faithless - rewarded McMahon with his friendship until the day he died.

McMahon reciprocated. He was Carson's ambassador and loudest cheerleader. What made his cheering both welcome and charming was that it was, in fact, sincere. He even wrote a book on Carson - uncritical, naturally, with no secrets told - and told Bob Costas during a CNN interview, "everywhere I go [or when] I'm signing the book, it's 'you and Johnny, Johnny and you!" People stop me in airports and it's not just the celebrity thing. They just want to tell me how much they loved Johnny Carson.

Born Edward Peter Leo McMahon in Detroit, he was raised in Massachusetts, studied drama at Boston College and the Catholic University and -- if his next career steps were any indication -- promptly discarded all that he had learned.
He was a carnival barker, and bingo caller, later flew many missions for the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II and Korea.
In the late '50s, ABC dumped Edgar Bergen and dummy, Charlie McCarthy, and replaced them with Carson and McMahon. Carson made jokes. McMahon laughed at them. When Carson took over "Tonight" in 1962, McMahon tagged along. For both men, it was the longest professional -- and in some respects, longest personal -- association of their lives. A television treasure was the result.