TV personality Ed McMahon died early this morning after months of ongoing health ailments, among them bone cancer and pneumonia, according to The New York Times. Though in his final years, he was plagued with a home foreclosure, he is most fondly remembered for his television appearances, most notably as a regular on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He was 86.
Before Andy Richter, before Paul Shaffer, there was Ed McMahon. He was the original yes-man, the first sidekick, the one-and-only yin to Carson's yang. He laughed when he needed to laugh, he kept quiet when he needed to keep quiet, and most importantly, he kept Carson in his place. The two grew into a late-night package deal, one not complete without the other, and were consequently welcomed into American homes as a trustworthy, jovial pair.
McMahon, like Carson, set the standard for late-night shows, which were once dominated by Carson's own but of late have morphed into a multi-player battle for ratings supremacy. The host-plus-sidekick formula, perfected by Carson and McMahon, doesn't quite live up to the standards they set -- Shaffer serves as both color commenter and bandleader to David Letterman, while Richter's awkward quips to Conan O'Brien pale in comparison to McMahon's hearty laugh and lovable "Hey-o!"
McMahon also hosted Star Search, the pre-Idol Idol, where tiny talents like Britney, Justin and Christina got their starts. In short, he was the precursor to many things we take for granted in contemporary pop culture, as well as a reassuring presence, and for that we must thank him.