I was trolling through the channels late the other night when I stumbled onto a special focussing on the life of Johnny Carson. I had meant to find something to fall asleep to, but instead was drawn down a road of memories from my past. When I was just a kid, I was not allowed to stay up late enough to watch The Tonight Show. I caught the occasional glimpse if I was up due to sickness. When I got a bit older and was in high school, I got to stay up late enough on Friday nights to catch the monologue and opening bit. I think somehow I connected being able to stay up late to watch Carson as one of those heady privileges of being a grown up. It wasn't until I went off to college that I had finally earned my stripes and could stay up late enough to watch whenever I wanted. For about 10 years I was a pretty regular viewer, even on those frequent occasions when Ed McMahon would announce, "The following is a Best of Carson". Watching Carson became a time for me to unwind from the stress of long days of hard work. The program ultimately developed into a trigger for me that caused the stress in my mind and body to loosen its grip. It became a time for me to come back to equilibrium.
Watching the special the other night, there were lots of images of Carson in his prime. Of course for me, I connect his prime to that wonderful downtown Burbank studio and a spry man with a quick wit and mostly white hair. It was the Mighty Carson Art Players, it was Joan Embery, it was stand up comics, and a litany of movie stars and other public figures. The clips and scenes that were shown on the special, many of which I remember, took me back to a simpler time when my whole life was ahead of me. Now that I am well past the halfway point of this ride, I look back with nostalgia and longing. When they showed Carson's sign-off from the final episode of The Tonight Show from May 22, 1992, I flashed back to the moment when I was sitting in my apartment on my bed with tears running unabated down my cheeks. Now as I watched him say goodbye again some 21 years later, those same emotions rolled back over me.
"And so it has come to this; I, uh ... am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. ... I bid you a very heartfelt good night."
Johnny, even though our time together has long since passed by, I miss the comforts that you brought.