johnny carson charity donationYesterday, the Smoking Gun broke the news that late night talk show host Johnny Carson secretly gave more than $156 million to charity in 2009 -- four years after he died of emphysema. His donations went to the John W. Carson Foundation, and were used to benefit environmental organizations, AIDS charities, schools, children’s aid groups and not-for-profits in Nebraska, where Carson grew up.

Everyone is saying what a generous, unassuming guy he was for being such a secret giver. So why did he screw poor Ed McMahon?

Carson's sidekick on The Tonight Show had some serious money woes late in life and he certainly could have used some of that dough. In 2008, the year before he died, he was in arrears on his mortgage and was $1.5 million in debt. (He was apparently too honest to rig the American Family Publishers Sweepstakes in his favor.)

Turns out McMahon, a war veteran, was quite the charitable guy himself -- he was a big tipper wherever he went and he funded his third wife's clothing company (he was married four times), which fizzled. Unfortunately, McMahon didn't get residuals from the successful DVD box sets of "The Tonight Show," and he wasn't smart with his money.

Of course Carson's generosity was and is amazing -- and I'm only joking about him screwing poor, big-hearted Ed. According to the Smoking Gun, his massive bequest leaves his foundation with assets dwarfing the largest Hollywood charities -- even the one run by David Geffen, whose organization listed assets of $80 million on its most recent tax return. 

But it is sad to see how two men who worked together side-by-side, night after night, for 30 years ended their lives under such different financial circumstances. Then again, both were rich in the things that count. And they're probably having a lot of laughs on a big puffy cloud couch in heaven.

We bid them both a very heartfelt goodnight.

 

Image via JohnnyCarson.com