John William Carson (October 23, 1925 – January 23, 2005) was an American talk show host and comedian, best known for his 30 years as host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962–1992). Carson received six Emmy Awards, the Television Academy's 1980 Governor's Award, and a 1985 Peabody Award. He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1993.
Although his show was already successful by the end of the 1960s, it was during the 1970s Carson became an American icon and remained so even after his retirement in 1992. He adopted a casual, conversational approach with extensive interaction with guests, an approach pioneered by Arthur Godfrey and previous Tonight Show hosts Steve Allen and Jack Paar. Former late-night host and friend David Letterman had cited Carson's influence.
He is also known as John William Carson and Carson.
On March 19, 1999, Carson suffered a severe heart attack at his home in Malibu, California, and was hospitalized in nearby Santa Monica, where he underwent quadruple-bypass surgery.
Carson was a heavy smoker for decades and, in the early days of his tenure on Tonight, often smoked on-camera. It was reported that as early as the mid-1970s, he would repeatedly say, "These things are killing me." His younger brother recalled that during their last conversation, Carson kept saying, "Those damn cigarettes."
At 6:50 am PST on January 23, 2005, Carson died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles of respiratory failure arising from emphysema. He was 79, and had revealed his terminal illness to the public in September 2002. His body was cremated, and the ashes were given to his wife, Alexis Maas. In accordance with his family's wishes, no public memorial service was held. Carson is also survived by his younger brother, Dick, who is an Emmy Award-winning director of, among other things, the competing Merv Griffin Show and Wheel of Fortune.