TV personality Johnny Carson had an easier life on screen than off. Behind the scenes, he had a strained relationship with his three sons — Christopher, 69, Cory, 66, and Richard, who died at age 39 in 1991.

“It was a tragic story of a very successful father who had children who never gave him anything to be particularly proud of,” the late actor’s lawyer and biographer, Henry Bushkin, exclusively told Closer Weekly. “And I don’t think he ever did anything as a dad they were terribly proud of.”


Johnny and his children had a hard time seeing eye to eye and it didn’t help that he always put his career before his family. “All of Johnny’s kids suffered because of his devotion to his career. Maybe that was his first love,” former Tonight Show writer Mike Barrie once said. But after Richard died in a car accident, it changed the TV host’s life forever.

“Johnny was unable to do the show for a while,” writer Andrew Nicholls explained to Closer. “After a month, he finally sat down with us and said, ‘God, don’t ever go through this,’ then he went straight to work.” That was Johnny’s life. He treasured his career more than anything but, at the same time, he knew it wouldn’t last forever. He retired in 1992 and lived a life of solitude on the sea.

Johnny Carson

“He was happy as a clam,” Peter Jones, director of the documentary Johnny Carson: King of Late Night, revealed to Closer. “He loved reading and being on his boat — it was very solitary, just him and the sea. He loved traveling to places where people didn’t know who he was.”

While thinking about retirement, Johnny added, “I think I left at the right time. You’ve got to know when to get the hell off the stage, and the timing was right for me.”

For more on your favorite stars, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!

Be sure to check out and subscribe to our Classic TV & Film Podcast for interviews with your favorite stars!