If you are as old as me, you remember Ed McMahon as the man on the couch beside Johnny Carson (The Tonight Show) calling out “hiyo” and acting as the foil to many of the skits. Though McMahon was seen as irrelevant to many of the next generation of late night hosts, most soon fell into a McMahon-Carson like relationship with their band leaders and Conan O’Brien knew enough to resurrect him in the form of Andy Richter when he took the Tonight Show on recently.
For others, slightly younger than I, McMahon is likely the face of Star Search. Before there was American Idol with its intentional snark and seemingly intoxicated, incoherent, judges and catch phrases, there was Star Search. Star Search opened the door to many actors, comedians, and musicians in a competition format that was both critical AND nurturing. Every week people tuned in to the multi-medium show to watch the young kids and talented hopefuls of all ages do their thing and then hear the judges scores. It was wholesome entertainment that made sure not to make children cry or send aging contestants to the hospital ward or rehab. And McMahon as host always praised and encouraged talent and tried to let those without it down easy.
In his final days in the limelight, Ed McMahon was more often known as the face of Publisher’s Clearing House, with people wondering “does anybody every win this?” and cursing the day they signed up for Redbook. Worse, McMahon was recently in such financial trouble that he lost his house and was staying at a hotel paid for by someone else. A man who had largely fallen out of the public eye, became the go to story for all the tabloid shows and still he head his head up high and took responsibility for his financial troubles.
I don’t know who Ed McMahon was as a man, but as the always jovial man on my tv for the past 40 or so years, he was like an old friend.