Ed McMahon Said Johnny Carson Lacked ‘Energy for His Home’ and Marriages While Hosting ‘The Tonight Show’

As Johnny Carson’s loyal co-host, Ed McMahon sat by the beloved icon for 30 years on The Tonight Show. And in that time, he received insight into some of Carson’s inner thoughts, including notes on three failed marriages.

After Carson’s death, McMahon concluded his friend lacked “energy for his home” while married to his first three wives and working on The Tonight Show.

Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon laugh as they trade places at 'The Tonight Show' desk c. 1976
(l-r) Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon | Frank Carroll/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Ed McMahon privately supported Johnny Carson through the end of his first marriage

In McMahon’s book, Here’s Johnny, he wrote about Carson and decades of working together. The book was published after Carson’s 2005 death and details 46 years of a truly unique friendship.

One note McMahon made about the roots of their relationship came from their time on the show Who Do You Trust?, which reached back to the late ’50s before they were hired on The Tonight Show. He wrote he was often eager to catch a train back to his home and family in Philadelphia when they finished working, but many days Carson would ask if he wanted to get something to eat and drink after work.

“Sure, Johnny, I’d love to,” McMahon said he always replied. According to him, his going out with Carson was more than “just not wanting to say no to the boss” or time spent with “a very nice guy whose company was a delight,” though he said the latter was true. He wrote, “Although few people knew it, I was aware that Johnny’s first marriage was breaking up.”

That first marriage was between Carson and his college sweetheart, Jody Wolcott. They had three children and inevitably divorced in 1963, the year after he started his Tonight Show run.

Johnny Carson kissing his wife before leaving for the studio as his sons look on at his home
Johnny Carson and family | NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

Ed McMahon said Johnny Carson ‘didn’t have the energy for his home’ and marriages

According to McMahon and Here’s Johnny, Carson admitted he “just didn’t have the energy for his home that he had for his studio.”

Furthermore, the host was aware of how that factor contributed to his divorces. After his marriage to Wolcott ended, he married and divorced Joanne Copeland, then Joanna Holland. At some point, his love life became a target for both tabloid stories and Tonight Show jokes.

After Carson’s third union ended, McMahon recalled him saying, “If I had put the work into my marriages that I put into the show, they might have succeeded.”

Ed McMahon said Johnny Carson’s fourth wife was his ‘last and most beloved sweetheart’

After sharing how he introduced Carson to third wife, Joanna, McMahon noted in Here’s Johnny that the marriage ultimately failed. But he said the host’s fourth wife, Alexis Maas, was seemingly the one.

“Johnny’s feeling for a woman was to soar even higher … in Malibu, when he met Alexis, who in 1987 became his last and most beloved sweetheart,” he shared.

According to McMahon’s account, Maas caught Carson’s eye on the beach. “She was wearing a bikini and carrying an empty wine glass,” he recalled. The couple married in 1987 and he retired in 1992.

Carson’s last marriage was his longest, lasting until his death at age 79 in 2005. And McMahon noted Carson was a “happy man in the years after he left the show” thanks in part to being married to “a woman he adored.”

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