I grew up watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. To this day, I can clearly hear Ed McMahon’s distinctive voice introducing the King of Late Night: “And now, ladies and gentlemen, Heeeeere’s Johnny!” I loved those guys. I loved the colorful curtain, “Doc” Severinsen, and the NBC Orchestra. I loved it all, and I told my parents I would host that show when I grew up. Imagine how surreal it was for me, twenty-five years later, to be in the back of an SUV with Ed McMahon outside a restaurant in New York City. My career in broadcasting and publishing has given me the opportunity to meet politicians, pop stars, authors, athletes, characters, and comedians. But this, this was different. I was with Ed McMahon promoting his new book. We spent a couple of days in New York doing interviews with all of the major TV and radio shows.
One day we had an hour to kill between interviews so Ed asked if we could “drive around a bit.” At this point, Ed was in his mid-eighties and not in the best of health. But he still showed flashes of his old self, and I was impressed by his humility and graciousness. He always took the time to greet people on the street and pose for pictures. He even invited a couple on their honeymoon to jump in our car for a few minutes as he signed autographs for them. I’ll never forget the look on their faces. They were overjoyed. Our driver rolled to a slow stop outside the restaurant and the valet recognized Ed right away. “Good afternoon Mr. McMahon,” he said as he approached the car. Ed waved him off and said, “We’re not staying today, just parking for a few minutes if that’s all right.” The valet nodded and went on to the next car.
And there we sat.
The car grew silent as Ed, seated in the passenger side, stared out the window at the restaurant. It was an overcast day in New York and a slight drizzle began to fall. No one said a word.
Finally Ed spoke up, “This is the restaurant where Johnny asked me to come with him to Los Angeles to do The Tonight Show. He was so happy reminiscing. The emotion was so thick I felt as if I could cut it with a knife. His love for Johnny was evident in his voice and I kept thinking how surreal this was being in that car at that exact moment. Perhaps Ed somehow knew, but this would be his last time in front of that restaurant. He died only a few months later in Los Angeles.
I thought about all of those nights watching Johnny, Ed, Doc, and the band. I mean really, what’s a nerdy kid from Saginaw, Michigan, doing sitting in a car with Ed McMahon in New York sharing his memories of Johnny Carson? Maybe God has nothing to do with these moments, but it felt like He did. It felt like a blessing. And I thanked Him just in case.
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