King of late-night TV showed dignity, class

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 25, 2005

American folk humorist Mark Twain once said, "The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter."

It's a comment that we suspect Johnny Carson understood well. He spent his life making us laugh.

For many of us, we grew up and grew old watching Carson.

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The year was 1958 and a young, homespun humored Carson filled in for "Tonight Show" host Jack Paar.

Carson was the natural choice as a replacement when Paar left the show four years later.

Starting then, Carson blazed new comic territory for an unmatched three decades on the air.

Carson was always a gentleman on air and his humor always stayed on the polite side of discretion.

And, when Carson flirted with the line, he always managed to turn his face or tilt his head in just a certain way to let us all know what he was implying without actually saying a thing. The adults knew what he meant, but the children, if they were still awake, didn't have a clue. It was classic Carson.

Countless among us sat up in bed watching his famous monologues each night for decades.

Carson kept us laughing through some of the most tumultuous times in American history. His humor brought us together and made the world a little saner when at times the rest of the world seemed filled with insanity.

During all of the problems during the 1960s, from race riots to the Vietnam War, no matter how troubling the news of the day was, Carson was there to make us forget about the world's problems, even if only for a moment.

Carson died Sunday, leaving forever a void in our collective heart.

Perhaps as we remember Carson, we should also remember the words of poet E.E. Cummings.

"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter."

For 30 years, Carson never let us waste a day. And his humor will live on forever in our hearts.