This is a little off my usual focus, and I swear to God almighty that this will be the only time I link to E!, but the great Johnny Carson has passed away. It is no hyperbole to say that he was one of the most important public figures of the 20th Century. He was not the inventor of the late night talk show, that belongs to the late Steve Allen, but he perfected the format. The comic monolouge, the skits, the celebrity guests, the overwrought band, the boozehound second banana, the interviewee's sofa- all these late night staples are the direct descendents of Carson's Tonight Show.
Dozens of careers exist solely because of Carson's benificence. David Letterman, Jay Leno, David Brenner, and (unfortunately) Joan Rivers would not be who they are today were it not for Johnny Carson.
Politics, too, felt Johnny Carson's deft influence from time to time. He ended Richard Nixon's career, and he began Bill Clinton's. Scandals, wars, mere gaffes- Johnny could dispatch them all with a light hand. Until the Daily Show emerged in the past few years as a major force, the yardstick for political impact in popular culture is the late night monolouge.
Rest well, Johnny- you are deeply missed.