Military Wiki
Ed McMahon
McMahon in November 2005
Born Edward Leo Peter McMahon, Jr.
(1923-03-06)March 6, 1923
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Died June 23, 2009(2009-06-23) (aged 86)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Residence Los Angeles, California
Nationality American
Education Boston College
Alma mater Catholic University of America
Occupation Comedian, game show host, announcer, spokesman
Years active 1957–2009
Notable work(s) The Tonight Show, Star Search, TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes
Home town Lowell, Massachusetts
Spouse(s) Alyce Ferrill (1945–1974)
Victoria Valentine (1976–1989)
Pam Hurn (1992–2009)

Edward Leo Peter "Ed" McMahon, Jr. (March 6, 1923 – June 23, 2009) was an American comedian, game show host and announcer. He is most famous for his work on television as Johnny Carson's sidekick, announcer, and second banana on The Tonight Show from 1962 to 1992. He also hosted the original version of the talent show Star Search from 1983 to 1995. He co-hosted TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes with Dick Clark from 1982 to 1998. He also presented sweepstakes for the direct marketing company American Family Publishers (not, as is commonly believed, its main rival Publishers Clearing House).[1]

McMahon annually co-hosted the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. He performed in numerous television commercials, most notably for Budweiser. In the 1970s and 1980s, he anchored the team of NBC personalities conducting the network's coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. McMahon appeared in several films, including The Incident, Fun With Dick and Jane, Full Moon High, and Butterfly, as well as briefly in the film version of Bewitched. According to Entertainment Weekly, McMahon is considered one of the greatest "sidekicks".[2]

Early years[]

McMahon was born in Detroit, Michigan to Edward Leo Peter McMahon, Sr. a fund-raiser and entertainer, and his wife Eleanor (Russell) McMahon.[3] He was raised in Lowell, Massachusetts. McMahon attended Boston College in 1940-41 and later graduated from the Catholic University of America, majoring in speech and drama on the GI Bill in 1949. He was a member of Phi Kappa Theta fraternity. McMahon began his career as a bingo caller in Maine when he was fifteen.

Prior to this, he worked as a carnival barker for three years in Mexico, Maine. He put himself through college as a pitchman for vegetable slicers on the Atlantic City boardwalk. His first broadcasting job was at WLLH-AM in his native Lowell and he began his television career in Philadelphia at WCAU-TV.

Military service[]

McMahon hoped to become a US Marine Corps fighter pilot. Prior to the US entry into World War II, however, both the Army and Navy required two years of college for their pilots program. McMahon enrolled into classes at Boston College. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, the college requirement was dropped, and McMahon immediately applied for Marine flight training. His primary flight training was in Dallas, followed by fighter training in Pensacola, where he also earned his carrier landing qualifications. He was a Marine Corps flight instructor for two years, finally being ordered to the Pacific fleet in 1945. However, his orders were canceled after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki forcing Japan's surrender.

As an officer in the reserves, McMahon was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. This time, he flew the OE-1 (the original Marine designation for the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog), an unarmed single-engine spotter plane. He functioned as an artillery spotter for the Marine batteries on the ground and as a forward controller for the Navy and Marine fighter bombers. He flew a total of 85 combat missions, earning six Air Medals. After the war, he stayed with the Marines, as a reserve officer, retiring in 1966 as a colonel. In 1982 he received a state commission as a brigadier general in the California Air National Guard, an honorific awarded to recognize his support for the National Guard and Reserves.[4][5]

Entertainment career[]

The Tonight Show[]

McMahon and Johnny Carson first worked together as announcer and host on the daytime game show Who Do You Trust? (1957–1962). McMahon and Carson left the show to join The Tonight Show in 1962. He describes what happened when the pair first met, the whole meeting being "... about as exciting as watching a traffic light change".[6] For almost 30 years, McMahon introduced the The Tonight Show with a drawn-out "Heeere's Johnny!" His booming voice and constant laughter alongside the "King of Late Night" earned McMahon the nickname the "Human Laugh Track" and "Toymaker to the King". As part of the introductory patter to The Tonight Show, McMahon would state his name out loud, pronouncing it as /mɨkˈm.ən/, but neither long-time cohort Johnny Carson nor anyone else who interviewed him ever seemed to pick up on that subtlety, usually pronouncing his name /mɨkˈmæn/.[citation needed]

The extroverted McMahon served as a counter to the notoriously shy Carson. Nonetheless, McMahon once told an interviewer that after his many decades as an emcee, he would still get "butterflies" in his stomach every time he would walk onto a stage, and would use that nervousness as a source of energy.[citation needed]

Star Search[]

He was also host of the successful weekly syndicated series Star Search, which began in 1983 and helped launch the careers of numerous actors, singers, choreographers, and comedians. He stayed with the show until it ended in 1995, and in 2003, he made a cameo appearance on the revival of the CBS show, hosted by his successor, Arsenio Hall.

Other roles[]

McMahon at the premiere of Air America, 1990

McMahon was the co-host of the long-running annual Labor Day weekend MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon. His 41st and last appearance was in 2008, making him second only to Lewis himself in number of appearances.[7] McMahon and Dick Clark hosted the television series (and later special broadcasts of) TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes on NBC from 1982 to 1998, when Clark decided to move the production of the series to ABC.

In 1967, McMahon had a role in the film The Incident.

From 1965 to 1969, McMahon was communicator (host) of the Saturday afternoon segment of Monitor, the weekend news, features and entertainment magazine on NBC Radio. McMahon had a supporting role in the original 1970's version of the movie "Fun With Dick & Jane" and played himself in Steven Spielberg's 1986 Amazing Stories Season 1: Episode 10  ("Remote Control Man").[8] In 2004, he became the announcer and co-host of Alf's Hit Talk Show on TV Land. He has authored two memoirs, Here's Johnny!: My Memories of Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship as well as For Laughing Out Loud. Over the years, he emceed the game shows Missing Links, Snap Judgment, Concentration, and Whodunnit!. McMahon hosted Lifestyles Live, a weekend talk program aired on the USA Radio Network. He also appeared in the feature documentary film, Pitch People, the first motion picture to take an in-depth look at the history and evolution of pitching products to the public. In the early 2000s, McMahon made a series of Neighborhood Watch public service announcements parodying the surprise appearances to contest winners that he was supposedly known for. (In fact, it is not clear whether the company McMahon fronted, American Family Publishers, regularly performed such unannounced visits, as opposed to Publishers Clearing House and its oft-promoted "prize patrol".)

Towards the end of the decade, McMahon took on other endorsement roles, playing a rapper for a commercial[9] and in a Cash4Gold commercial alongside MC Hammer. McMahon was also the spokesman for Pride Mobility, a leading power wheelchair and scooter manufacturer. His final film appearance was in the independent John Hughes themed rom-com Jelly as Mr. Closure alongside actress Natasha Lyonne.

Mostly in the 1980s through the 1990s, McMahon was the spokesperson for Colonial Penn Life Insurance Company.

Personal life[]

Marriage and children[]

McMahon married Alyce Ferrell on July 5, 1945, while he was serving as a flight instructor in the Marines;[10] the couple had four children: Claudia (b. 1946), Michael Edward (1951–1995), Linda and Jeffrey.[11] In 1972, they separated, and in 1974 they divorced.[12] McMahon married Victoria Valentine on March 6, 1976.[13] They adopted a daughter in 1985: Katherine Mary. The couple divorced in 1989; McMahon paid $50,000 per month in spousal and child support.[14] On February 22, 1992, three months before his Tonight Show run came to a close, in a ceremony held near Las Vegas,[14] McMahon married Pamela "Pam" Hurn, a 37-year-old mother of a son named Lex. McMahon's daughter Katherine served as best person at the wedding. McMahon adopted his wife's son, making his name Lex McMahon. Pam Hurn McMahon was widowed in 2009 at the death of Ed McMahon, and spoke at his funeral.

Financial problems[]

In June 2008, it was announced that McMahon was $644,000 behind on payments on $4.8 million in mortgage loans and was fighting to avoid foreclosure on his multimillion-dollar Beverly Hills home.[15] McMahon was also sued by Citibank for $180,000. McMahon appeared on Larry King Live on June 5, 2008 with his wife to talk about this situation. In the interview, McMahon's wife Pam said that people assumed that the McMahons had so much money because of his celebrity status. Pamela McMahon also commented that they do not have "millions" of dollars.[16] On July 30, 2008, McMahon's financial status suffered another blow. According to Reuters, McMahon failed to pay divorce attorney Norman Solovay $275,168, according to a lawsuit filed in the Manhattan federal court. McMahon and his wife, Pamela, hired Solovay to represent Linda Schmerge, his daughter from another relationship, in a "matrimonial matter," said Solovay's lawyer, Michael Shanker.[17]

On August 14, 2008, real estate mogul Donald Trump announced that he would purchase McMahon's home from Countrywide Financial and lease it to McMahon, so the home would not be foreclosed.[18] McMahon agreed instead to a deal with a private buyer for his hilltop home, said Howard Bragman, McMahon's former spokesman. Bragman declined to name the buyer or the selling price, but he said it is not Trump. "For Mr. Trump, this acquisition was not business-related, but, as he has stated, was meant to help out an American icon," said Michael Cohen, special counsel to Trump. "If another buyer should emerge who will create the benefit Mr. Trump sought for Ed McMahon, then he is clearly pleased." In early September, after the second buyer's offer fell through, Trump renewed his offer to purchase the home.[19]

Health problems[]

On April 20, 2002, McMahon sued his insurance company for more than $20 million, alleging that he was sickened by toxic mold that spread through his Beverly Hills house after contractors failed to properly clean up water damage from a broken pipe. McMahon and his wife, Pamela, became ill from the mold, as did members of their household staff, according to the Los Angeles County Superior Court suit. The McMahons also blame the mold for the death of the family dog, Muffin. Their suit, the latest of many in recent years over toxic mold, was filed against American Equity Insurance Co., a pair of insurance adjusters and several environmental cleanup contractors. It seeks monetary damages for alleged breach of contract, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A spokeswoman for the insurance company declined to comment. On March 21, 2003, the long battle ended with McMahon reaping $7 million from what was later discovered to be several companies who were negligent for allowing mold into his home. Their dog's death was confirmed to be caused by mold.

McMahon was injured in 2007 in a fall and, in March 2008, it was announced he was recovering from a broken neck and two subsequent surgeries. He later sued Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and two doctors claiming fraud, battery, elder abuse, and emotional distress, and accused them of discharging him with a broken neck after his fall in 2007 and later botching two neck surgeries. On February 27, 2009 it was reported that McMahon had been in an undisclosed Los Angeles hospital (later confirmed as Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center) for almost a month. He was listed in serious condition and was in the intensive care unit. His publicist told reporters that he was admitted for pneumonia at the time, but could not confirm nor deny reports that McMahon had been diagnosed with bone cancer.[20]


McMahon died on June 23, 2009, shortly after midnight at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. He was 86 years old. His nurse, Julie Koehne, RN, stated he went peacefully. 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.[21] McMahon had said that he still suffered from the injury to his neck in March 2007.[22]

Then Tonight host Conan O'Brien paid tribute to McMahon on his show later that night, saying "It is impossible, I think, for anyone to imagine 'The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson' without Ed McMahon. Ed's laugh was really the soundtrack to that show." O'Brien added that McMahon, with Carson, created "the most iconic two-shot in broadcasting history. There will never be anything like that again".[23]

The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia [1] posthumously inducted McMahon into their Hall of Fame in 2010.


  • Ed McMahon's Barside Companion (World Publishing Company, Copyright 1969 by Parthenon Productions, Inc.), Library of Congress #70-94527
  • Ed McMahon's Superselling by Ed McMahon with Warren Jamison (Prentice Hall Press, Copyright 1989 by Ed McMahon), ISBN 0-13-943366-X
  • For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times (Warner Books, 1998), co-written with David Fisher
  • Here's Johnny! My Memories of Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship (Berkley Publishing Group – Penguin Group (USA, Inc.), 2005)
  • When Television Was Young (2007)


  1. Joel Keller, "Ed McMahon did not work for Publishers Clearing House," TV Squad, June 23, 2009.
  2. Ben Schott, Schott's Mischellany Calendar 2009 (New York: Workman Publishing, 2008), March 21.
  3. "Ed McMahon Biography (1923-2009)". 
  4. Deseret News, "It's General Ed", February 24, 1982
  5. Jerry Buck, Associated Press, Youngstown Vindicator, "Shows Keep McMahon Busy Depite Vows to 'Slow Down'", January 15, 1984
  6. Lasting Tribute online obituary.
  7. "Longtime MDA Telethon Anchor Ed McMahon Dies". 2009-06-23. 
  8. "Internet Movie Data Base". IMDB. Retrieved 14 May 2013. 
  9. "Ed McMahon turns gangsta rapper". CNN. 2008-09-25. Retrieved 2008-09-25. [dead link]
  10. Wise, James E.; Rehill, Anne Collier (1999). Stars in the corps: movie actors in the United States Marines. Naval Institute Press. pp. 133–138. ISBN 1-55750-949-2. 
  11. Social Security Death Index
  12. Gliatto, Tom; Doris Bacon (September 9, 1991). "Ed Over Heels". 
  13. McMahon, Ed; Fisher, David (1999). For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times. p. 290. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Laufenberg, Norbert B. (2005). Entertainment Celebrities. Trafford Publishing. p. 442. ISBN 1-4120-5335-8. 
  15. "Ed McMahon fighting foreclosure on his Beverly Hills home however holds deposits in offshore accounts unaccounted for." AP News, accessed June 4, 2008.
  16. Ed McMahon explains his mortgage mess,, June 6, 2008.
  17. Honan, Edith (July 30, 2008). "Ed McMahon sued over legal bills". Reuters. 
  18. Brenoff, Ann (14 August 2008). "Donald Trump to buy Ed McMahon’s house". The Los Angeles Times.,0,6229599.story. 
  19. Wells, Jane (3 September 2008). "Donald Trump 'Still Here To Help' Ed McMahon Stay In House". 
  20. Ed McMahon ill with pneumonia - Reuters Reuters UK February 27, 2009.
  21. "American TV star Ed McMahon dies". BBC News. 2009-06-24. Retrieved 2009-06-24. 
  22. Yahoo: Ed McMahon's death at 86.
  23. Barrett, Liz (2009-06-24). "Conan O'Brien pays tribute to Ed McMahon, dead at 86". Newsroom New Jersey. Retrieved 2009-06-24. 
  • Here's Ed (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1976) with Carroll Carroll

External links[]

Media offices
Preceded by
Hugh Downs
The Tonight Show announcer
Succeeded by
Edd Hall

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