‘The Tonight Show’: Why Johnny Carson Walked Away From the Show 30 Years Ago

by Shelby Scott

“The Tonight Show” remains one of the most iconic TV talk shows in American history, taking to the air in 1954 with its first host, Steve Allen. Since then, the beloved talk show has featured five prominent hosts. They include Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, and Jimmy Fallon. However, among all five hosts, it was Johnny Carson’s 1992 exit that was most memorable.

Carson hosted “The Tonight Show” for an impressive 30 years starting in 1962, and featured numerous guest stars throughout his reign. Overall, viewers adored the longtime host. So why exactly did Johnny Carson walk away from the hit variety show?

Johnny Carson Leaves Lasting Imprint on the Late Night Talk Show

Based on a description of Carson’s final “Tonight Show” appearances, there wasn’t one reason in particular that caused the longtime host to depart his position. Instead, it seems as though he simply made the decision to leave on his own. And when it came time to pass the baton, he stuck with that decision.

As such, Carson’s final episode and, more prominently, his penultimate episode, were especially emotional. According to Yahoo Entertainment, Johnny Carson hardly left “The Tonight Show” with a roar. Instead, his final appearance on the long-running talk show saw the beloved host prop himself on a stool in front of the set’s iconic curtain. Sitting there for the majority of the episode’s airtime, he shared his fondest memories from his 30 years as host.

He opened the night by stating, “This show tonight is our farewell show — it’s going to be a little bit quieter, it’s not going to be a performance show.” Rather, he joked, “look on the bright side: you won’t have to read or see one more story about my leaving this show!”

As per the outlet, Johnny Carson announced his decision to depart “The Tonight Show” in May 1991, a year prior to his final appearance.

Johnny Carson Exits ‘The Tonight Show’ With a Bang

While fans mourned the departure of their believed “Tonight Show” host, Johnny Carson made sure his exit, as well as his final guest stars, were memorable.

There’s no doubt Johnny Carson served as the foundation of “The Tonight Show” during his reign. However, it was his affinity for bringing on iconic guests and talents that established his success in the variety show. As such, some of his final episodes are also his most memorable.

As per the news outlet, Carson’s final week kicked off featuring Mel Brooks, Jack Lemmon, and Ed McMahon. Additionally, Tony Bennett performed, singing his signature piece, “I Left My Heart in San Fransisco.”

The next night saw appearances from Roseanne Arnold and Richard Harris. However, the final guests to appear during Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” reign were Robin Williams and Bette Midler. The outlet states that what made the penultimate episode especially emotional is that Midler, with a full live and broadcast audience, seemed to sing the song, “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” right to the show’s host.

Immediately after sharing an embrace with the longtime host, she rushed off the stage full of emotion.