Ed McMahon Biography

Ed McMahon was born Edward Leo Peter McMahon, Jr. on March 6, 1923, to Edward, Sr. and Eleanor McMahon. Born in Detroit, Mich., and raised in Lowell, Mass., McMahon’s unusually resonant voice earned him jobs that included carnival barker, bingo caller and vegetable slicer pitchman.

Ed McMahon Military Service, College

McMahon wanted to become a Marine Corps Fighter Pilot during WWII. The pilot program required two years of college, so he enrolled at Boston College. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, however, the requirement was dropped and he immediately applied for training. McMahon was trained in Dallas and Pensacola and served as a flight instructor for two years before he was ordered into the Pacific Fleet in 1945. The orders were canceled after the dropping of the atomic bomb forced Japan’s surrender.

After WWII, under the GI Bill, McMahon attended the Catholic University Of America. He graduated in 1949, majoring in speech and drama. He was a member of Phi Kappa Theta. McMahon studied under the Reverend Gilbert Hartke and led an effort to raise the money for a theater to be named for him. In 1970, he attended the theater’s dedication with Helen Hayes and Sidney Poitier.

McMahon was an officer in the reserves, called back to active duty during the Korean War and flew the OE-1. McMahon served as an artillery spotter for the Marines and as a forward controller for the Navy and Marines. He flew over 80 combat missions and won six Air Medals. He retired from the Marines in 1966 as a colonel after serving as a reserve officer. In 1982 McMahon was awarded a state commission as a brigadier general in the California Air National Guard.

Ed McMahon on The Tonight Show, Star Search

McMahon first began his partnership with Johnny Carson in 1957, when he was hired as an announcer on the game show Who Do You Trust?, hosted by Carson. In 1962 the young comic Carson was called upon to host The Tonight Show, replacing Jack Paar. Carson tapped McMahon to join him as announcer. McMahon became famous for his opening line for the show, a prolonged “Heeere’s Johnny!” The line was mimicked in the 1980 horror film The Shining.

McMahon’s resonant voice and laughter earned him the nickname ‘The Human Laughtrack’ as he performed his duties on the show for nearly 30 years, even with guest hosts Jay Leno and Joan Rivers. Leno took over the show in 1992.

In 2008, in one of his final interviews, McMahon told Uinterview exclusively his most memorable moment from working with Carson. “50 years ago, on Oct. 13, it was a Monday, and I walk out on stage at the little theater on 44th Street right across from the Hubert Theater, there I was standing on the stage. Johnny Carson was over here about nine feet from where I was. This was my first opportunity to say ‘Welcome to Who Do You Trust starring Johnny Carson!’,” McMahon told Uinterview. “I’m doing now the credits of the advertisers on the show that day. I had to say ‘The cake mixers you can trust!’ I had six of them. I’m not on camera yet, I’m just in the little theater, a 400-seat theater, and I’m doing this. Johnny Carson walked from over there over to my script and set fire to my script. This was my very first day working with Johnny Carson 50 years ago and I’m reading charcoal at the bottom of this paper and I realized then that we were in for something. Luckily, it lasted for 34 years we worked together. So the most memorable part of our relationship was that burning charcoal in my hands.”

From 1983-1995, McMahon served as the host of the talent program Star Search, ending his reign only after the show was canceled. He made a guest appearance on its brief CBS reboot in 2003 with host Arsenio Hall. During his time on the show, McMahon saw some talented acts and some strange ones.

“When you look back at all the people we discovered: Beyonce and Usher and you look at Ray Romano — I wonder whatever happened to him, he must be around — any way you got people like Drew Carey and Dennis Miller, Sinbad. There were so many stars that came out of that,” McMahon told Uinterview. “We did that for 13 years and we had a whole galaxy of stars that came out of that. The strangest act was a dance team. The guy had a routine where he threw his partner up. They must have had an argument earlier that morning because he didn’t catch her. We think that just happened, his arm hurt or something. But he threw her up and he wasn’t there to catch her.”

Ed McMahon TV/Film Work, Books, Endorsements

From 1965-1969 McMahon served as the host of the Saturday afternoon segment of the news program The Monitor. McMahon co-hosted the long-running MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon for 41 years, ending his run in 2008.

From 1992-1998 McMahon and Dick Clark co-hosted TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes, ending their partnership when Clark moved the production to ABC.

In 1967, McMahon appeared in The Incident, had a supporting role in the 1970s original Fun With Dick & Jane and played himself in Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. In 2004 McMahon served as the announcer and co-host of Alf’s Hit Talk Show. McMahon hosted Lifestyles Live on USA Radio Network, appeared in Pitch People and emceed the game shows Whodunnit!, Concentration, Missing Links and Snap Judgment. His final film appearance was in the John Hughes-themed Jelly as Mr. Closure.

McMahon contributed to and authored five books, including Ed McMahon’s Barside Companion, Ed McMahon’s Superselling, For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times, Here’s Johnny! My Memories of Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship, and When Television Was Young.

In the late 2000s, McMahon took a few endorsement roles, including a rapper for FreeCreditReport.com and Cash4Gold. “My plans didn’t include rapping in my life. My plans were to just do what I do. I sing the blues. I know how to do that. I never thought that you could actually sing rap,” Carson told Uinterview. “I admire these guys, and I’d say, ‘How in the world do they do that?’ It turned out I could do that. I could do rap songs. I’m very proud of that. I’m a rapper!” McMahon told Uinterview that it was Coolio who taught him how to rap. “The thing about rapping is you wake up in the morning and you plan not to breathe for the rest of the day. It’s so tough to rap ’cause there’s no air. There’s no pauses. There’s no spaces in there. But I rap for two songs so I don’t think that’s too bad on my part.”

Ed McMahon Financial Trouble

In June 2008, McMahon’s financial troubles became public. It was announced that he was $644,000 behind on payments and defaulted on a $4.8 million mortgage loan and fighting to avoid foreclosure on his home in Beverly Hills. Additionally, McMahon was sued by Citibank for $180,000. He and his wife Pam McMahon (née Hurn) discussed their financial situation on Larry King Live, clearing the rumors that he was a millionaire due to his celebrity status.

The next month, it was announced that McMahon had failed to pay divorce attorney Norman Solovay $275,168, who was representing McMahon’s daughter Linda in a “matrimonial matter.”

Donald Trump offered to buy McMahon’s house and lease it to him so that it would not be foreclosed. McMahon instead planned to sell his home to a private buyer, but the deal fell through. Trump renewed his offer.

Ed McMahon Marriages, Family

McMahon married Alyce Ferrill in July 1945. The two had four children — Claudia, Michael Edward, Linda and Jeffrey. They separated in 1972 and divorced in 1974.

In 1976 McMahon married Victoria Valentine. In 1985 they adopted their daughter Katherine Mary. McMahon and Valentine divorced in 1989 and McMahon paid her $50,000/month in child and spousal support.

McMahon married 37-year-old single mother Hurn in 1992, and Katherine Mary served as McMahon’s Best Person in the ceremony. McMahon adopted Hurn’s son Lex. McMahon and Hurn were married until his death in 2009.

Ed McMahon Health Problems, Death

McMahon began suffering health issues in 2002 when he sued his insurance company after being sickened by toxic mold that he alleged contractors failed to properly clean. He blamed this for the death of his dog and the sickness suffered by his wife and household staff as well.

In 2007, McMahon was injured by a fall and in 2009 it was announced that he was in recovery for a broken neck and two surgeries. He sued Cedars-Sinai Medical Center as well as two doctors on the charges of battery, fraud, emotional distress and elder abuse. He also believed they botched his surgeries and discharged him with a broken neck.

Though the reasons are cloudy, it was announced that McMahon was in the intensive care unit (ICU) of a Los Angeles hospital on February 27. It was speculated that he was being treated for bone cancer, but his publicist insisted he had been admitted for pneumonia.

McMahon died shortly after midnight on June 23, 2009, at the age of 86. No cause of death was given, though his publicist attributed his death to the many health problems he suffered during his last few months, including his broken neck. He was said to have died peacefully.

Conan O’Brien, the then-host of The Tonight Show, paid tribute to McMahon. McMahon was posthumously inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia’s Hall Of Fame.

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