Johnny Carson’s Second Wife ‘Wore out a Set of Suitcases’ During Their ‘Blow up’ Fights

Television icon Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for 30 years before fleeing the public eye in 1992. Though he had a reputation for demanding privacy, his personal life, specifically his four marriages, still inspires plenty of fodder. His second wife, Joanne Carson, once revealed she “wore out a set of suitcases without leaving the building” during their fights. But what eventually led that marriage to end?

Joanne Carson leans on Johnny Carson's back as the couple smiles and poses for a picture on their couch c. 1965
Johnny and Joanne Carson | David McLane/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

Johnny Carson married his second wife in 1963, the same year as his first divorce

In 1963, shortly following Carson’s divorce from his first wife Joan (Jody) Wolcott Carson, he wed Joanne Copeland Carson. When they met and began dating in 1960, she was a model and former air stewardess. But that courtship supposedly was not initiated until after Carson’s first marriage was well into a period of separation.

After Carson’s death, Joanne Carson spoke to Larry King about her iconic ex. She fondly looked back on their time together and told King there was no genuine “hard part” of their marriage for her.

Notably, they married the year after Johnny Carson took over The Tonight Show. “I think the fans were the hardest part,” she added to her first statement. “When we went out in public, because of, well, fans. Fans being fans.”

Johnny Carson and his second wife had ‘big fights, big issues’

Joanne Carson confessed she and Johnny Carson had “big fights [and] big issues,” which she blamed, in part, on his being a “perfectionist.”

What would they fight about? Anything and everything. “We would fight over the fact I forgot to get half and half,” she revealed. “He would blow up and then I would blow up and I would walk out. I wore out a set of suitcases without leaving the building.”

Johnny Carson’s one-time attorney Henry Bushkin reported the second Mrs. Carson began an affair with Frank Gifford. In his memoir, Johnny Carson, Bushkin alleged the beloved host woefully found out about the relationship when he secretly gained access to his wife’s apartment.

But Joanne Carson didn’t mention that incident while talking to King. And she and Gifford both denied it ever happened.

According to her, her marriage to Carson simply grew dysfunctional. “Johnny and I got along very well when he was on Who Do You Trust? and the beginning of The Tonight Show,” she explained. “But then — you know what happens in show business. Things get kind of out of joint and I was living this ivory tower lifestyle that’s really not me.”

Johnny Carson and his second wife divorced in 1972, the same year as his third marriage

When King asked why the marriage only lasted a decade, Joanne Carson confessed, “It was my fault.”

“And I loved Johnny, but I really needed to go home,” she concluded. “I needed to come back to California.”

The marriage ended in divorce in 1972. But Joanne Carson maintained a love for her ex-husband for the rest of his life. “When you love somebody, you may not be married to them anymore but it doesn’t mean you stop loving them. You still love them,” she explained to King.

She added she had a “theory about marriages, and that is we come into each other’s lives for a reason. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s permanent.”

Johnny Carson remarried again in 1972, then divorced and remarried once more before he died at 79 in 2005. On the other hand, Joanne Carson remarried once later in life and divorced in 2013. She died at 83 in 2015.

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