U.S. Veteran Ed McMahon Dies at 86
Ed McMahon had been on television from time immemorial and was an icon whose charm never failed to lure viewers. But there is more to the man than just being co-host of the Johnny Carson show. Many people have forgotten that this man was a legendary soldier of his times.
In the past, He talked about his life and how the Marine Corps helped him in his line of work and also how he had not compromised his values despite all his success.
During World War II, McMahon was a fighter pilot in the United States Marine Corps serving as a flight instructor and test pilot. He was a decorated pilot (six Air Medals) and was discharged in 1946, remaining in the reserves.
After college, McMahon returned to active duty. He was sent to Korea in February 1952. He flew unarmed O-1E Bird Dogs on 85 tactical air control and artillery spotting missions. He remained in the Marine Corps Reserve, retiring with the rank of Colonel in 1966 and was then commissioned as a Brigadier General in the California Air National Guard.
Several of his ancestors, including the Marquis d’Equilly, also had long and distinguished military careers. Patrice MacMahon, duc de Magenta was a Marshal of armies in France, serving under Napoleon III, and later President. McMahon once asserted to Johnny Carson that mayonnaise was originally named MacMahonnaise in honor of this ancestor, referring to him as the Comte de MacMahon. In his autobiography, McMahon said that it was his father who told him of this relationship and he went on to suggest that he was not certain of the truth of the story.
U.S. Marine Ed McMahon was TV’s most famous second banana, sitting alongside Johnny Carson during what was arguably the golden age of NBC’s Tonight Show, from 1962 to 1992, welcoming a nightly national audience with his opening cry of "Heeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny."
But now that voice is stilled. NBC News announced Tuesday morning that Ed McMahon, 86, had died after a battle with cancer. He had been hospitalized for pneumonia in January.
Father Also a PitchmanAccording to a 1980 profile in PEOPLE, the future TV sidekick was born in Detroit but spent his early childhood sharing his parents’ life on the road. Ed Sr. was a pitchman – "to put it nicely, a promoter," says McMahon – and was forever on the move. "I changed towns more often than a pickpocket," McMahon recalled. "I went to some 15 schools before high school. Nobody ever knew my name, and I was painfully shy."
While he would daydream of growing up to become a radio announcer, and fantasized that a flashlight was a make-believe microphone, the young Ed was finally left with his grandmother Katie Fitzgerald McMahon in Lowell, Mass., where he graduated from high school in 1939 and went on to Boston College.
Joining the Marines in 1941, he spent two years as a flight instructor in Jacksonville, Fla. In 1945 he married his first – of an eventual three – wives, Alyce Ferrell. Leaving the Marines in 1946, he enrolled as a drama and speech major at Washington’s Catholic University, still hoping to get into radio – and hawking pots and pans door to door and even pushing vegetable slicers on the Atlantic City Boardwalk to make money.
Graduating in 1949, McMahon landed a job at WCAU-TV in Philadelphia. Nine years later, after a second tour with the Marines in Korea, he hosted his own local show when he was summoned to New York to meet Johnny Carson, then starring on ABC’s Who Do You Trust?
Working with Carson
His first memory of Carson was not promising. "He was standing with his back to the door, staring at a couple of workmen putting letters on a theater marquee. I walked over and stood beside him. Finally the two guys finished, and Johnny asked, ‘What have you been doing?’ I told him. He said, ‘Good to meet you, Ed,’ shook my hand and I was out of the office. The whole meeting was about as exciting as watching a traffic light change," McMahon remembered.
Still, the job of Carson’s foil became his, and four years later Carson assumed the Tonight throne after Jack Paar had retired. The rest was TV history.
In addition to his widow, Pamela, McMahon is survived by six adult children: three sons and three daughters – as well as legions of fans.
Besides setting up Carson’s jokes for 30 years, McMahon was also a familiar TV face as the emcee of Star Search. In 2008, he and wife Pamela also made news for a series of financial woes that resulted in the near-foreclosure of their Beverly Hills-area home.
June 23, 2009
McMahon died at age 86 on June 23, 2009, shortly after midnight at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. 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.
Ed McMahon spent weeks in ICU fighting his battle of pneumonia, bone cancer, other serious medical problems before his death. McMahon also stated that he still suffered from the injury to his neck back in March of 2007. Signs point to the cause of death being due to his bone cancer.
Ed will be missed