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, Cory 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 in 2019. “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 showbiz 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 1991, 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.
“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 once said, “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.”
Even though Johnny, who died at age 79 in 2005, struggled with fatherhood throughout his life, the Emmy Award winner’s sons grew up to be some fine gentlemen. While they didn’t follow in their dad’s famous footsteps, they each paved successful lives for themselves.
Keep scrolling to learn about the star’s three kids, Christopher, Cory and late son Richard.
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