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Joanne Carson, the second wife of Johnny Carson and a confidante of Truman Capote, died Friday, the Los Angeles Times reported. She was 83.
The divorced wife of the legendary Tonight Show host died at her home on Sunset Boulevard in Westwood, Ed Rada, a former managing director of Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group and trustee of her estate, told the newspaper.
A model who had worked as a stewardess for Pan American World Airways, Joanne Copeland went on her first date with Johnny in 1960, when he was working as the host of a game show, Who Do You Trust?, based in New York City.
“Johnny kind of said to me on our first date, ‘You love comedy so much, would you like to come up and see a show that I did?’” she told Larry King on his CNN show in 2007. “And I said, ‘Is this a new way of saying come up and see my etchings?’”
Their marriage lasted from 1963 — the year after Carson landed his Tonight Show gig, which would last three decades — until their divorce in 1972.
After her marriage dissolved, the California native (who was raised in a convent) returned from New York and worked as a TV talk show host in Los Angeles.
In 1974, Joanne wanted to write a “a lovely story about my friendship” with the people she knew in Hollywood, she told the Times in October. Her book editor wanted something a bit more salacious, so she abandoned the project.
She did, however, complete one 38-page chapter, which Capote edited, about meeting Johnny. The author had a writing room in her home, and the In Cold Blood novelist died there on Aug. 25, 1984, of liver cancer at age 59.
Joanne had original kinescopes of some of Johnny’s work before The Tonight Show — the same tapes that he had asked her to watch on their first date — and she released them on a set of DVDs in 2007.
In a memoir published in October 2013, Johnny’s longtime attorney Henry Bushkin wrote that Joanne had had an affair with retired New York Giants football player Frank Gifford (then married to his first wife, college sweetheart Maxine) in the early 1970s. She denied that ever happened.
Johnny, who died in January 2005 at age 79, had four wives in all and often made jokes about his inability to stay married (and about how much that cost him in alimony).
Joanne, who had no children, later married and divorced Richard Rever.
11:20 a.m. May 10: Correcting Joanne Carson’s age to 83.
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