LOS ANGELES- Eighty-six year-old Ed McMahon, the late Johnny Carson’s sidekick on the “Tonight Show,” TV pitchman and variety show host, died today at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, according to broadcast reports and the star’s publicist.
McMahon died shortly after midnight, Howard Bragman, his friend and publicist for two decades, told NBC-LA News.
The famous “second banana” to Carson, who died in 2005, had been hospitalized at the Reagan Medical Center in Westwood since February for pneumonia. He had also been diagnosed with bone cancer. Bragman declined to say what specifically caused McMahon’s death.
Instead, he said the entertainer died peacefully, surrounded by his third wife Pamela and other family members at his hospital bedside. Bragman also told the station that funeral arrangements were pending.
“I knew Ed a long time,” Bragman told KNBC. “He was just one of the kindest people you ever wanted to meet. People responded to his `authenticity,”‘ he said.
In later years the TV icon suffered through some well publicized health and financial problems.
In 2002 he sued he sued his insurance company for more than $20 million after alleging he and his wife Pamela became sick from toxic mold that developed after contractors cleaned up water, eventually winning $7 million after negligence was found on the part of those contractors.
In 2007, he fell and broke his neck. Last year, he faced foreclosure on his Beverly Hills home when he fell behind on payments on his $4.8 million mortgage, claiming the neck injury left him too sick to work.
But McMahon was rescued through the largesse of people like developer Donald Trump, who helped negotiate a deal to keep in his house.
“When I was at the Wharton School of Business, I’d watch him every night,” Trump told the Los Angeles Times in August. “How could this happen,” he asked.
Bragman said that McMahon could have ducked the issue of his financial problems or at least soft-pedaled it but he refused.
“I want to stand up and tell the world that I made some mistakes, that I overspent. I’m not alone in that and I want other people to learn from my mistakes,” Bragman told KNBC.
McMahon, who is probably best known for his trademark, full-throated, introduction — “Hereeeeee’s Johnny” — of Carson at the start of the Tonight Show and perfectly timed foil to the legendary comic for more than three decades, was also an accomplished TV host and pitchman as well.
He was the well-known spokesman for American Family Publishers’ sweepstakes, the host of the amateur talent show “Star Search,” forerunner to American Idol. He was also the longtime co-host of Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon on Labor Day as well as co-host with Dick Clark on “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes.”
McMahon also did pitches for Budweiser and most recently the cash for gold business. He also did several film and TV gigs including, the movie “Fun with Dick and Jane,” in 1977 and “Just Write,” in 1997. And he performed regularly on the 1997 sitcom, “The Tom Arnold Show,” with Tom Arnold. Born Edward Leo Peter McMahon Jr. on March 6, 1923 in Detroit, he grew up in Lowell, Mass. He started on television playing a circus clown on the 1950-51 variety show, “Big Top.”
During World War II, he trained as a U.S. Marine fighter pilot and also served as an instructor and test pilot. he was discharged in 1946 but returned to active duty with the marines and served in Korea in 1953.
His big break came in the late 1950s when ABC replaced ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his puppet, Charlie McCarthy, with the daytime game show “Who Do You Trust?” hosted by McMahon.
McMahon is survived by his third wife, Pamela, three sons and three daughters.