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Edward Leo Peter "Ed" McMahon, Jr. (March 6, 1923 – June 23, 2009) was an Americanmarker comedian, game show host, announcer, and television personality. Most famous for his work on television as Johnny Carson's announcer and sidekick on The Tonight Show from 1962 to 1992, the one-time fighter pilot also hosted the original version of the talent show Star Search from 1983 to 1995, co-hosted TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes with Dick Clark from 1982 to 1986, and presented sweepstakes for the direct marketing company, American Family Publishers (not, as is commonly believed, its main rival Publishers Clearing House).

McMahon annually co-hosted the The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. He performed in numerous television commercials, most notably for Budweiser. In the 1970s and 1980s, he anchored the team of NBC personalities conducting the network's coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

McMahon appeared in several films, including The Incident, Fun With Dick and Jane, Full Moon High, and Butterfly, as well as briefly in the film version of Bewitched. According to Entertainment Weekly, McMahon is considered one of the greatest "sidekicks".

Early years

McMahon was born in Detroitmarker to Eleanor (née Russell) and Edward Leon McMahon, a fund-raiser and entertainer. He was raised in Lowell, Massachusettsmarker. He attended Boston Collegemarker as a freshman in 1940-41 and later finished at Catholic University of Americamarker, majoring in speech and drama after his first military service 1942-45. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949. He was a member of Phi Kappa Theta fraternity. McMahon began his career as a bingo caller in Mainemarker when he was fifteen.

Prior to this, he worked as a carnival barker for three years in Mexico, Mainemarker. He put himself through college as a pitchman for vegetable slicers on the Atlantic Citymarker boardwalk. His first broadcasting job was at WLLHmarker-AM in his native Lowell and he began his television career in Philadelphiamarker at WCAU-TVmarker.

Military service

Ed McMahon wanted to become a US Marine Corps fighter pilot. Prior to the US entry into World War II, the Army and Navy required 2 years of college for entry into its pilots program. Ed McMahon enrolled into classes at Boston Collegemarker. After Pearl Harbormarker was attacked, the military dropped the college requirement for pilot training, so McMahon dropped out of school and applied to the Marines. His primary flight training was in Dallas and was followed up by fighter training in Pensacolamarker where he received his carrier landing qualifications. He spent the next 2 years as a flight instructor training other Marine pilots. McMahon finally received orders to the Pacific fleet in 1945, but those orders were cancelled after the Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ending the war.

As an Officer in the reserves, McMahon was recalled to Active Duty during the Korean War. This time, he flew the OE-1 (the original Marine designation for the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog), a unarmed single-engine spotter plane. He functioned as an artillery spotter for the Marine Batteries on the ground and as a forward controller for the Navy and Marine fighter bombers. He flew a total of 85 combat missions, earning 6 Air Medals. After the war, he stayed with the Marines, as a reserve officer, retiring in 1966 as a Colonel.

Entertainment career

The Tonight Show

McMahon and Johnny Carson first worked together as announcer and host on the daytime game show Who Do You Trust? (1957-1962). McMahon and Carson left the show to join The Tonight Show in 1962. He describes what happened when the pair first met, the whole meeting being "... about as exciting as watching a traffic light change".

For more than 30 years, McMahon introduced the Tonight Show with a drawn-out "Here's Johnny!" His booming voice and constant laughter alongside the "King of Late Night" earned McMahon the nickname the "Human Laugh Track" and "Toymaker to the King".

As part of the introductory patter to The Tonight Show, McMahon would state his name out loud, pronouncing it as Ed "Mc MAH yon", but neither long-time cohort Johnny Carson nor anyone else who interviewed him ever seemed to pick up on that subtlety, usually referring to him as Ed "Mc MAN".

The extroverted McMahon served as a counter to the notoriously shy Carson. Nonetheless, McMahon once told an interviewer that after his many decades as an emcee, he would still get "butterflies" in his stomach every time he would walk onto a stage, and would use that nervousness as a source of energy.

Star Search

He was also host of the successful weekly syndicated series Star Search, which began in 1983 and helped launch the careers of numerous actors, singers, choreographers, and comedians. He stayed with the show until it ended in 1995, and in 2003, he made a cameo appearance on the revival of the CBS show, hosted by his successor, Arsenio Hall.

Other roles

McMahon was the long-running co-host of the annual Labor Day weekend Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. His 41st and last appearance was in 2008, making him second only to Lewis himself in number of appearances.

McMahon and Dick Clark hosted the television series (and later special broadcasts of) TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes on NBC from 1982-98, when Clark decided to move the production of the series to ABC.

In 2004, he became the announcer and co-host of Alf's Hit Talk Show on TV Land. He has authored two memoirs, Here's Johnny!: My Memories of Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship as well as For Laughing Out Loud.

Over the years, he emceed the game shows Missing Links, Snap Judgment, Concentration, and Whodunnit!.

McMahon hosted Lifestyles Live, a weekend talk program aired on the USA Radio Network. He also appeared in the feature documentary film, Pitch People, the first motion picture to take an in-depth look at the history and evolution of pitching products to the public.

In the early 2000s McMahon made a series of Neighborhood Watch public service announcements parodying the surprise appearances to contest winners that he was supposedly known for. (In fact, it is not clear whether the company McMahon fronted, American Family Publishers, regularly performed such unannounced visits, as opposed to Publishers Clearing House and its oft-promoted "prize patrol".)

Towards the end of the decade, McMahon took on other endorsement roles, playing a rapper for a commercial and in a Cash for Gold commercial alongside MC Hammer. McMahon was also the spokesman for Pride Mobility, a leading power wheelchair and scooter manufacturer.

Personal life


McMahon had three daughters and three sons:
  • Claudia McMahon
  • Katherine McMahon
  • Linda McMahon
  • Jeffrey McMahon
  • Michael Edward McMahon (April 12, 1951 - July 28, 1995, cancer)
  • Lex McMahon (stepson; adopted after McMahon married Pam Hurn)

Financial problems

In June 2008, it was announced that McMahon was $644,000 behind on payments on $4.8 million in mortgage loans and was fighting to avoid foreclosure on his multimillion-dollar Beverly Hillsmarker home. McMahon was also sued by Citibank for $180,000. McMahon appeared on Larry King Live on June 5, 2008 with his wife to talk about this situation. In the interview, McMahon's wife Pam said that people assumed that the McMahons had so much money because of his celebrity status. Pamela McMahon also commented that they do not have "millions" of dollars.

On July 30, 2008, McMahon's financial status suffered another blow. According to Reuters, McMahon failed to pay divorce attorney Norman Solovay $275,168, according to a lawsuit filed in the Manhattan federal court. McMahon and his wife, Pamela, hired Solovay to represent Linda Schmerge, his daughter from another relationship, in a "matrimonial matter," said Solovay's lawyer, Michael Shanker.

On August 14, 2008, real estate mogul Donald Trump announced that he would purchase McMahon's home from Countrywide Financial and lease it to McMahon, so the home would not be foreclosed. McMahon agreed instead to a deal with a private buyer for his hilltop home, said Howard Bragman, McMahon's former spokesman. Bragman declined to name the buyer or the selling price, but he said it is not Trump. "For Mr. Trump, this acquisition was not business-related, but, as he has stated, was meant to help out an American icon," said Michael Cohen, special counsel to Trump. "If another buyer should emerge who will create the benefit Mr. Trump sought for Ed McMahon, then he is clearly pleased." In early September, after the second buyer's offer fell through, Trump renewed his offer to purchase the home.

Health problems

On April 20, 2002, McMahon sued his insurance company for more than $20 million, alleging that he was sickened by toxic mold that spread through his Beverly Hills house after contractors failed to properly clean up water damage from a broken pipe. McMahon and his wife, Pamela, became ill from the mold, as did members of their household staff, according to the Los Angeles County Superior Court suit. The McMahons also blame the mold for the death of the family dog, Muffin. Their suit, the latest of many in recent years over toxic mold, was filed against American Equity Insurance Co., a pair of insurance adjusters and several environmental cleanup contractors. It seeks monetary damages for alleged breach of contract, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A spokeswoman for the insurance company declined to comment. On March 21, 2003, the long battle ended with McMahon reaping $7 million from what was later discovered to be several companies who were negligent for allowing mold into his home. Their dog's death was confirmed to be caused by mold.

McMahon was injured in 2007 in a fall and, in March 2008, it was announced he was recovering from a broken neck and two subsequent surgeries. He later sued Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and two doctors claiming fraud, battery, elder abuse, and emotional distress, and accused them of discharging him with a broken neck after his fall in 2007 and later botching two neck surgeries.

On February 27, 2009 it was reported that McMahon had been in an undisclosed Los Angeles hospital (later confirmed as Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Centermarker) for almost a month. He was listed in serious condition and was in the intensive care unit. His publicist told reporters that he was admitted for pneumonia at the time, but could not confirm nor deny reports that McMahon had been diagnosed with bone cancer.


McMahon died at age 86 on June 23, 2009, shortly after midnight at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Centermarker in Los Angelesmarker, Californiamarker. His nurse, Julie Koehne, R.N. stated he went peacefully. No formal cause of death was given, but McMahon's publicist attributed his death to the many health problems he had suffered over his final months. McMahon had said that he still suffered from the injury to his neck in March 2007.

Current Tonight host Conan O'Brien paid tribute to McMahon on his show later that night, saying "It is impossible, I think, for anyone to imagine 'The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson' without Ed McMahon. Ed's laugh was really the soundtrack to that show." O'Brien added that McMahon, with Carson, created "the most iconic two-shot in broadcasting history. There will never be anything like that again". McMahon was interred at the Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemeterymarker in Los Angeles.


  • Ed McMahon's Barside Companion (World Publishing Company, Copyright 1969 by Parthenon Productions, Inc.), Library of Congress #70-94527
  • For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times (Warner Books, 1998), co-written with David Fisher
  • Here's Johnny! My Memories of Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship (Berkley Publishing Group – Penguin Group (USA, Inc.), 2005)
  • When Television Was Young (2007)


  1. " Setting the Record Straight on Ed McMahon," Publishers Clearing House official blog, March 15, 2009.
  2. Joel Keller, " Ed McMahon did not work for Publishers Clearing House," TV Squad, June 23, 2009.
  3. Ben Schott, Schott's Mischellany Calendar 2009 (New York: Workman Publishing, 2008), March 21.
  4. Lasting Tribute online obituary.
  5. Social Security Death Index.
  6. "Ed McMahon fighting foreclosure on his Beverly Hills home however holds deposits in offshore accounts unaccounted for." AP News, accessed June 4, 2008.
  7. Ed McMahon explains his mortgage mess,, June 6, 2008.
  8. Ed McMahon ill with pneumonia - Reuters Reuters UK February 27, 2009.
  9. Yahoo: Ed McMahon's death at 86.

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