A lot of famous people, comedians especially, have been said to be favorite guests of Johnny Carson when he reigned over late night on “The Tonight Show.” But Joan Rivers was so beloved that she was asked to be guest host and could have taken over the whole enterprise. But then she had a dramatic falling out with Carson in 1986 and never returned to the show until new host Jimmy Fallon invited her back earlier this year.
Rivers, who died Thursday at 81, credited Carson as her mentor in show business. And it was her 1965 appearance on “The Tonight Show” that shot her fledgling stand-up career to star status.
Here is a very early interview between Rivers and Carson from 1966, when Carson served as guest host of “The Sammy Davis Jr. Show.” For much of the interview, they discuss Rivers’ new marriage to Edgar Rosenberg. Rosenberg served as his wife’s manager and would later play a key role in the fallout between Carson and Rivers. He committed suicide in 1987.
In the early 1980s, Rivers was asked to be a guest host for Carson, the first of three regular guest hosts, which she did from 1983 to 1986. After she left NBC to host her own late night show on Fox, Garry Shandling was regular guest host until 1987, when Jay Leno took over.
Here is a clip of Rivers from early in her hosting years, talking to another host, Fred Rogers. Though her stand-up was usually quite risque, she was also quite adept at handling a discussion with the very sincere Mr. Rogers.
When the newly launched Fox network approached her with an offer to host her own late night show, Rivers accepted. But when she tried to discuss her career move to Carson, he reportedly hung up on her twice. And never spoke to her again for the rest of his life.
After Carson retired in 1992, Leno, and then Conan O’Brien, never had Rivers on “The Tonight Show.”
But Fallon invited her back in March. Here is a clip of her final appearance on “The Tonight Show,” which came 49 years after her first appearance.