R.I.P. Ed McMahon, self-deprecating ad star

At one time, Ed McMahon was one of the most famous human beings on the media landscape. From 1962 until 1992, as the announcer on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, his "H-e-e-e-e-re's Johnny" catchphrase, guffaws from the guest couch (frequently unrelated to anything taking place on the program) and self-deprecating humor helped define late-night TV. He was a pop-culture icon of the first degree, often parodied (notably by Phil Hartman on Saturday Night Live), sometimes challenged for sidekick supremacy (Paul Schaffer at his peak), but never duplicated. As his health and finances deteriorated in recent years, he knowingly lampooned his own image (and strove to pay the bills) by rapping in ads for (above) and sharing screen time with Hammer in a Cash4Gold spot that aired during February's Super Bowl. He never took himself too seriously, and he kept his dignity and celebrity intact until the end. When it comes to playing second banana, he'll always be No. 1. Ed McMahon died today at age 86.

—Posted by David Gianatasio

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