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"Henry and Johnny"

carson story

The New Yorker article by Kenneth Tynan from 1978, included the following question and answer:

Tynan: When you’re at home, whom do you entertain?

Carson: My lawyer, Henry Bushkin, who’s probably my best friend.

But to Henry, the relationship was much more complicated...

Johnny Carson at his Tonight Show desk

Photo by Sylvan Mason

People speak to Henry about Johnny Carson, because sooner or later it comes out that he worked for the Tonight Show host for nearly 20 years. He was his attorney, though that hardly expresses all that he did. He was his lawyer, counselor, partner, business advisor, earpiece, mouthpiece, enforcer, running buddy and tennis pal, drinking and dining companion and foil. A good portion of his job meant cleaning up Johnny’s mess. There are still a decent number of people who had a business relationship with Johnny Carson that ended badly. They still love Johnny, but hate that prick lawyer of his. Which of course, was just the way Johnny wanted it.

This was the most complex, stimulating, and challenging relationship of Henry’s life, the most rewarding and the most disappointing. The one that now, 25 years after it ended, continues to provoke, irritate, delight, amuse, and sadden. Henry and Johnny were together longer than three of his wives, he was closer to the man than any of Johnny Carson’s friends, family, or colleagues. But for all that, nothing shocked Henry more than the day six years into their relationship, when in a magazine Johnny described Henry as his “best friend.”

Friend? Doubtful. They probably were never really friends. The collar around Henry’s neck wasn’t always comfortable and loose. There was never a question about who was in charge.


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