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LOS ANGELES (AP) - Johnny Carson, the "Tonight Show" TV host who served America a smooth nightcap of celebrity banter, droll comedy and heartland charm for 30 years, has died. He was 79. "Mr. Carson passed away peacefully early Sunday morning," his nephew, Jeff Sotzing, told The Associated Press. "He was surrounded by his family, whose loss will be immeasurable. There will be no memorial service."
Sotzing would not give further details, including the time of death or the location.
The boyish-looking Nebraska native with the disarming grin, who survived every attempt to topple him from his late-night talk show throne, was a star who managed never to distance himself from his audience.
His wealth, the adoration of his guests - particularly the many young comics whose careers he launched - the wry tales of multiple divorces: Carson's air of modesty made it all serve to enhance his bedtime intimacy with viewers.
"Heeeeere's Johnny!" was the booming announcement from sidekick Ed McMahon that ushered Carson out to the stage. Then the formula: the topical monologue, the guests, the broadly played skits such as "Carnac the Magnificent."
But America never tired of him; Carson went out on top when he retired in May 1992. In his final show, he told his audience: "And so it has come to this. I am one of the lucky people in the world. I found something that I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it."
His personal life could not match the perfection of his career. Carson was married four times, divorced three. In 1991, one of his three sons, 39-year-old Ricky, was killed in a car accident.
Nearly all of Carson's professional life was spent in television, from his postwar start at Nebraska stations in the late 1940s to his three decades with NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson."
Carson choose to let "Tonight" stand as his career zenith and his finale, withdrawing into a quiet retirement that suited his private nature and refusing involvement in other show business projects.
In 1993, he explained his absence from the limelight.
"I have an ego like anybody else," Carson told The Washington Post, "but I don't need to be stoked by going before the public all the time." He was open to finding the right follow-up to "Tonight," he told friends. But his longtime producer, Fred de Cordova, said Carson didn't feel pressured - he could look back on his TV success and say "I did it."
"And that makes sense. He is one of a kind, was one of a kind," de Cordova said in 1995. "I don't think there's any reason for him to try something different."
Carson spent his retirement years sailing, traveling and socializing with a few close friends including media mogul Barry Diller and NBC executive Bob Wright. He simply refused to be wooed back on stage.
"The reason I really don't go back or do interviews is because I just let the work speak for itself," he told Esquire magazine in 2002 in a rare interview.
The former talk show host did find an outlet for his creativity: He wrote short humor pieces for The New Yorker magazine, including "Recently Discovered Childhood Letters to Santa," which purported to give the youthful wish lists of William Buckley, Don Rickles and others.
Carson made his debut as "Tonight" host in October 1962. Audiences quickly grew fond of his boyish grin and easy wit. He even made headlines with such clever ploys as the 1969 on-show marriage of eccentric singer Tiny Tim to Miss Vicki, which won the show its biggest-ever ratings.
The wedding and other noteworthy moments from the show were collected into a yearly "Tonight" anniversary special.
In 1972, "Tonight" moved from New York to Burbank. Growing respect for Carson's consistency and staying power, along with four consecutive Emmy Awards, came his way in the late 1970s.
His quickness and his ability to handle an audience were impressive. When his jokes missed their target, the smooth Carson won over a groaning studio audience with a clever look or sly, self-deprecating remark.
Politics provided monologue fodder for him as he skewered lawmakers of every stripe, mirroring the mood of voters. His Watergate jabs at President Nixon were seen as cementing Nixon's fall from office in 1974.
He made presidential history again in July 1988 when he had then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton on his show a few days after Clinton came under widespread ridicule for a boring speech at the Democratic National Convention. Clinton traded quips with Carson and played "Summertime" on the saxophone. Four years later, Clinton won the presidency.
Carson dispatched would-be late-night competitors with aplomb. Competing networks tried a variety of formats and hosts but never managed to best "Tonight" and Carson.
There was the occasional battle with NBC: In 1967, for instance, Carson walked out for several weeks until the network managed to lure him back with a contract that reportedly gave him $1 million-plus yearly.
In 1980, after more walkout threats, the show was scaled back from 90 minutes to an hour. Carson also eased his schedule by cutting back on his work days; a number of substitute hosts filled in, including Joan Rivers, David Brenner, Jerry Lewis and Jay Leno, Carson's eventual successor.
Rivers was one of the countless comedians whose careers took off after they were on Carson's show. After she rocked the audience with her jokes in that 1965 appearance, he remarked, "God, you're funny. You're going to be a star."
"If Johnny hadn't made the choice to put me on his show, I might still be in Greenwich Village as the oldest living undiscovered female comic," she recalled in an Associated Press interview 20 years later. She tried her own talk show in 1986, quickly becoming one of the many challengers who could not budge Carson.
In the '80s, Carson was reportedly the highest-paid performer in television history with a $5 million "Tonight" show salary alone.
His Carson Productions created and sold pilots to NBC, including "TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes." Carson himself made occasional cameo appearances on other TV series.
He also performed in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J., and was host of the Academy Awards five times in the '70s and '80s.
Carson's graceful exit from "Tonight" did not avoid a messy, bitter tug-of-war between Leno and fellow comedian David Letterman. Leno took over as "Tonight" host on May 25, 1992, becoming the fourth man to hold the job after founding host Steve Allen, Paar and Carson.
Carson was born in Corning, Iowa, and raised in nearby Norfolk, Neb. He started his show business career at age 14 as the magician "The Great Carsoni."
After World War II service in the Navy, he took a series of jobs in local radio and TV in Nebraska before starting at KNXT-TV in Los Angeles in 1950.
There he started a sketch comedy show, "Carson's Cellar," which ran from 1951-53 and attracted attention from Hollywood. A staff writing job for "The Red Skelton Show" followed.
The program provided Carson with a lucky break: When Skelton was injured backstage, Carson took the comedian's place in front of the cameras.
Producers tried to find the right program for the up-and-coming comic, trying him out as host of the quiz show "Earn Your Vacation" (1954) and in the variety show "The Johnny Carson Show" (1955-56).
From 1957-62 he was host of the daytime game show "Who Do You Trust?" and, in 1958, was joined for the first time by McMahon, his durable "Tonight" buddy.
A few acting roles came Carson's way, including one on "Playhouse 90" in 1957, and he did a pilot in 1960 for a prime-time series, "Johnny Come Lately," that never made it onto a network schedule.
In 1958, Carson sat in for "Tonight Show" host Jack Paar. When Paar left the show four years later, Carson was NBC's choice as his replacement.
After his retirement, Carson took on the role of Malibu-based retiree with apparent ease. An avid tennis fan, he was still playing a vigorous game in his 70s.
He and his wife, Alexis, traveled frequently. The pair met on the Malibu beach in the early 1980s; he was 61 when they married in June 1987, she was in her 30s.
Carson's first wife was his childhood sweetheart, Jody, the mother of his three sons. They married in 1949 and split in 1963.
He married Joanne Copeland Carson in 1963; divorce came in 1972. His third marriage, to Joanna Holland Carson, took place in 1972. They separated in 1982 and reached a divorce settlement in 1985.
On the occasion of Carson's 70th birthday in 1995, former "Tonight" bandleader Doc Severinsen, who toured with musicians from the show, said he was constantly reminded of Carson's enduring popularity.
"Every place we go people ask `How is he? Where is he? What is he doing? Tell him how much we miss him.' It doesn't surprise me," Severinsen said.
The brisk sale of the video collection "Johnny Carson: His Favorite Moments From The Tonight Show," released in 1994, offered further proof of his appeal.
He won a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1992, with the first President Bush saying, "With decency and style he's made America laugh and think." In 1993, he was celebrated by the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors for career achievement.
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Johnny Cash, a towering figure in American music spanning country, rock and folk and known worldwide as "The Man in Black," died Friday, his manager said. He was 71.
"Johnny died due to complications from diabetes, which resulted in respiratory failure," said Cash's manager, Lou Robin, in a press release issued by Baptist Hospital in Nashville.
The release said Cash died at the hospital at 1 a.m. EDT.
"I hope that friends and fans of Johnny will pray for the Cash family to find comfort during this very difficult time," Robin said in the release.
Cash had been released Wednesday after a two-week stay at Baptist, where he was admitted last month for an unspecified stomach ailment.
Cash had battled a disease of the nervous system, autonomic neuropathy, and pneumonia in recent years and was once diagnosed with a disease called Shy-Drager's syndrome, a diagnosis that was later deemed to be erroneous.
Dozens of hit records like "Folsom Prison Blues," "I Walk the Line," and "Sunday Morning Coming Down" defined Cash's persona: a haunted, dignified, resilient spokesman for the working man and downtrodden.
Cash's deeply lined face fit well with his unsteady voice, which was limited in range but used to great effect to sing about prisoners, heartaches, and tales of everyday life. He wrote much of his own material, and was among the first to record the songs of Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson.
"One Piece at a Time" was about an assembly line worker who built a car out of parts stolen from his factory. "A Boy Named Sue" was a comical story of a father who gives his son a girl's name to make him tough. "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" told of the drunken death of an American Indian soldier who helped raised the American flag at Iwo Jima during World War II, but returned to harsh racism in America.
Cash said in his 1997 autobiography "Cash" that he tried to speak for "voices that were ignored or even suppressed in the entertainment media, not to mention the political and educational establishments."
Cash's career spanned generations, with each finding something of value in his simple records, many of which used his trademark "boom-chicka-boom" rhythm.
Cash was a peer of Elvis Presley when rock 'n' roll was born in Memphis in the 1950s, and he scored hits like "Cry! Cry! Cry!" during that era. He had a longtime friendship and recorded with Dylan, who has cited Cash as a major influence.
He won 11 Grammys – most recently in 2003, when "Give My Love To Rose" earned him honors as best male country vocal performance – and numerous Country Music Association awards. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980 and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
His second wife, June Carter Cash, and daughter Roseanne Cash also were successful singers. June Carter Cash, who co-wrote Cash's hit "Ring of Fire" and partnered with her husband in hits such as "Jackson," died in May.
The late 1960s and '70s were Cash's peak commercial years, and he was host of his own ABC variety show from 1969-71. In later years, he was part of the Highwayman supergroup with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kristofferson.
In the 1990s, he found a new artistic life recording with rap and hard rock producer Rick Rubin on the label American Recordings. And he was back on the charts in with the 2002 album "American IV: the Man Comes Around."
Most recently, Cash was recognized for his cover of the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt" with seven nominations at last month's MTV Video Music Awards. He had hoped to attend the event but couldn't because of his hospital stay. The video won for best cinematography.
He also wrote books including two autobiographies, and acted in films and television shows.
In his 1971 hit "Man in Black," Cash said his black clothing symbolized the downtrodden people in the world. Cash had been "The Man in Black" since he joined the Grand Ole Opry at age 25.
"Everybody was wearing rhinestones, all those sparkle clothes and cowboy boots," he said in 1986. "I decided to wear a black shirt and pants and see if I could get by with it. I did and I've worn black clothes ever since."
John R. Cash was born Feb. 26, 1932, in Kingsland, Ark., one of seven children. When he was 12, his 14-year-old brother and hero, Jack, died after an accident while sawing oak trees into fence posts. The tragedy had a lasting impact on Cash, and he later pointed to it as a possible reason his music was frequently melancholy.
He worked as a custodian and enlisted in the Air Force, learning guitar while stationed in Germany, before launching his music career after his 1954 discharge.
"All through the Air Force, I was so lonely for those three years," Cash told The Associated Press during a 1996 interview. "If I couldn't have sung all those old country songs, I don't think I could have made it."
Cash launched his career in Memphis, performing on radio station KWEM. He auditioned with Sun Records, ultimately recording the single "Hey Porter," which became a hit.
Sun Records also launched the careers of Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and others.
"Folsom Prison Blues," went to No. 4 on the country charts in 1956, and featured Cash's most famous couplet: "I shot a man in Reno/ just to watch him die."
Cash recorded theme albums celebrating the railroads and the Old West, and decrying the mistreatment of American Indians. Two of his most popular albums were recorded live at prisons. Along the way he notched 14 No. 1 country music hits.
Because of Cash's frequent performances in prisons and his rowdy lifestyle early in his career, many people wrongly thought he had served prison time. He never did, though he battled addictions to pills on and off throughout his life. He blamed fame for his vulnerability to drug addiction.
"When I was a kid, I always knew I'd sing on the radio someday. I never thought about fame until it started happening to me," he said in 1988. "Then it was hard to handle. That's why I turned to pills."
He credited June Carter Cash, whom he married in 1968, with helping him stay off drugs, though he had several relapses over the years and was treated at the Betty Ford Center in California in 1984.
June Carter Cash was the daughter of country music great Mother Maybelle Carter, and the mother of singer Carlene Carter, whose father was country singer Carl Smith. Together, June Carter and Cash had one child, John Carter Cash. He is a musician and producer.
Singer Rosanne Cash is Johnny Cash's daughter from his first marriage, to Vivian Liberto. Their other three children were Kathleen, Cindy and Tara. They divorced in 1966.
In March 1998, Cash made headlines when his California-based record company, American Recordings, took out an advertisement in the music trade magazine Billboard. The full-page ad celebrated Cash's 1998 Grammy award for best country album for "Unchained." The ad showed an enraged-looking Cash in his younger years making an obscene gesture to sarcastically illustrate his thanks to country radio stations and "the country music establishment in Nashville," which he felt had unfairly cast him aside.
Jennings, a close friend, once said of Cash: "He's been like a brother to me. He's one of the greatest people in the world."
Cash once credited his mother, Carrie Rivers Cash, with encouraging him to pursue a singing career.
"My mother told me to keep on singing, and that kept me working through the cotton fields. She said God has his hand on you. You'll be singing for the world someday."
Cash lived in Hendersonville, Tenn., just outside of Nashville. He also had a home in Jamaica.
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – June Carter Cash, the Grammy-winning scion of one of country music's pioneering families and the wife of country giant Johnny Cash, died Thursday of complications from heart surgery. She was 73.
She died at a hospital with her husband of 35 years and family members at her bedside, manager Lou Robin said. She had been critically ill after May 7 surgery to replace a heart valve.
A singer, songwriter, musician, actress and author, June Carter Cash performed with her husband on record and on stage, doing songs like "Jackson" and "If I Were a Carpenter," which won Grammy awards in 1967 and 1970, respectively. Their duets included "It Ain't Me Babe" in 1964 and "If I Had a Hammer" in 1972.
"People talk about Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette when it comes to pioneering women in country music. But they very seldom mention June, somewhat because she got married to Johnny Cash," said Ed Benson, executive director of the Country Music Association. "I think people should think of her more often when they think of the pioneering women in country music."
She was co-writer of her husband's 1963 hit "Ring of Fire," which was about falling in love with Cash. In his 1997 autobiography, Johnny Cash described how his wife stuck with him through his years of amphetamine abuse.
"June said she knew me – knew the kernel of me, deep inside, beneath the drugs and deceit and despair and anger and selfishness, and knew my loneliness," he wrote. "She said she could help me. ... If she found my pills, she flushed them down the toilet. And find them she did; she searched for them, relentlessly."
Longtime friend Kris Kristofferson, who wrote the Cash hit "Sunday Morning Coming Down," said Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash have "been partners in life for as long as I've known them – always in love, and always there for each other."
"I know how much she means to him. It's the hardest thing he'll ever have to face."
June Carter was born June 23, 1929, in Maces Spring, Va. Her mother, Maybelle Carter, was in the Carter Family music act with her cousin Sara Carter and Sara's husband, A.P. Carter. In 1927, they made what are among the first country music recordings.
The family act broke up, but mother and daughters June, Helen and Anita continued on as Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters, with little June playing autoharp.
Starting in 1939, the sisters starred in a radio show on XERA in Del Rio, Texas, that could be heard as far away as Saskatchewan, Canada. The Carters went on to become staples of the Grand Ole Opry country music show in Nashville.
The Carters' harmony singing still inspires artists today and Maybelle's "Carter lick" on the guitar has become one of the most influential techniques in country music.
In the late 1950s, after her marriage to country singer Carl Smith broke up, June Carter moved to New York to study acting at the behest of director Elia Kazan, who had seen her perform while scouting Tennessee for movie locations.
In 1961, she turned down an offer to work on a variety show that had Woody Allen as one of the writers, agreeing instead to tour with Johnny Cash for $500 a week. They married in 1968 after he proposed to her on stage in London, Ontario.
In a 1987 Associated Press interview, June Carter Cash described her husband as "probably the most unusual, fine, unselfish person I've known."
"There's a lot of power to him," she said then. "I've seen him on shows with people with a No. 1 record or a lot of No. 1 records, but when John walks on that stage, the rest of 'em might as well leave."
In 1999, she released an acoustic album, "Press On," that amounted to a musical autobiography and won her another Grammy. The album, her first in a quarter-century, followed her career from its beginning through her then 31-year marriage and collaboration with Cash.
"There's a lot of people who I love – fans that I've known through the years – who will be glad I did it," she said about the album at the time. "And maybe some other people ... wonder what Johnny Cash's wife is really like."
In 1979, she wrote an autobiography, "Among My Klediments," and released "From the Heart," a memoir, in 1987.
June Carter Cash did occasional acting roles, including the part of Robert Duvall's mother in the 1997 film "The Apostle." With her husband, she periodically performed at Billy Graham crusades.
Johnny and June Carter Cash had a son, John Carter Cash, in 1970. She was also the mother of country singer Carlene Carter, whose father was Smith, and singer Rosanne Cash is her stepdaughter.
Funeral services will be private and details will not be released at the request of the Cash family.
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press