John William "Johnny" Carson (October 23, 1925 – January 23, 2005) was an American television host and comedian, known as host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for 30 years (1962–1992). Carson received six Emmy Awards including the Governor Award and a 1985 Peabody Award; he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992, and received Kennedy Center Honors in 1993.
Although his show was already hugely successful by the end of the 1960s, it was during the 1970s that he became an American icon and the "best guest" in American homes up until his retirement in 1992. Carson adopted a casual, conversational approach with extensive interaction with guests, an approach pioneered by Arthur Godfrey and previous Tonight Show hosts Steve Allen and Jack Paar. Late night hosts David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Craig Ferguson, and Jimmy Fallon have all cited Carson's influence on their late-night talk shows, which greatly resemble Carson's show in format and tone.
Carson was born in Corning, Iowa, on October 23, 1925 to Homer "Kit" Lloyd Carson, a power company manager, and Ruth Hook Carson. He grew up in the nearby towns of Avoca, Clarinda and Red Oak in southwest Iowa, before moving to Norfolk, Nebraska at the age of eight. At the age of 12 Carson found a book on magic at a friend's house and immediately purchased a mail-order magician's kit. He debuted as "The Great Carsoni" at 14 and was paid $3; many other performances at local picnics and country fairs followed.