Johnny Carson, the late late-night legend, had a well-documented dark side, some of which is detailed in an upcoming book by his friend and lawyer, Henry Bushkin.
In an excerpt published Tuesday by Entertainment Weekly, Bushkin recalled the time in 1970 that Carson — flanked by a private investigator, lock-picker and photographer — broke into his second wife's secret New York apartment to confirm his suspicion that she was having an affair.
Before the break-in, Bushkin, then 27, told Carson he would help him file for divorce.
“No, I don’t want you to file for divorce,” Carson interrupted. “I want you to go with Arthur and me and some other guys when we break into the apartment to find evidence to prove the b---- is cheating on me.”
So Bushkin accompanied the group to the building where Carson believed Joanne Copeland, "a cute, vivacious former stewardess who had briefly worked as the hostess on a TV game show called Video Village," had been carrying on an affair with the former New York Giants football great Frank Gifford.
Carson was wearing sunglasses to disguise his famous face. It didn't work:
“Hey, Johnny Carson!” the burly doorman bellowed. “Hey-ohhh!” But his delight at the sudden apparition of a celebrity in his lobby did not translate into a willingness to admit strangers into a resident’s apartment. Joanne must have used her husband’s money to tip generously.
They slipped the building manager "several hundred dollars" to let them into the apartment, where they confirmed Carson's fears:
Crushed by the overwhelming amount of evidence, Carson leaned against the living room wall and began to weep. It was a painfully uncomfortable moment. Arthur busied himself taking photos of the premises, while the rest of us tried to look away and give Johnny his privacy. It was, however, a small space, and I couldn’t always keep my eyes away. During one of those glances, I could see that Carson’s raincoat had fallen open. I was shocked to see that Johnny was carrying a .38 revolver in a holster on his hip. Mullen, seeing what I saw, shot me a look that warned, Don’t say a f---ing word, and then he quietly flipped the framed pictures of Gifford on the windowsill so that their backs faced the room. Across the room, the silent Joe Mullen deftly swept some lingerie under the sofa with the toe of his shoe. He wanted to spare Johnny the sight. There was little else that could be done.
Later that night, Bushkin was summoned to a bar by a drunken, devastated Carson.
"Behind the bar was a barkeep in a bow tie, and at the bar was one patron, Johnny Carson, his head in a cumulus cloud of cigarette smoke, nursing a drink," Bushkin recalled.
“Why Frank Gifford?” Carson asked. “What’s that a-hole got that I don’t have?”
The next day, Bushkin wrote, the King of Late Night could not recall the conversation:
“Hey, what did we talk about last night?” he asked. “What the hell did I say?”
“Nothing much,” I replied. “Nothing important.”
He paused for several seconds. I think that he was impressed that my discretion extended even to him. “You must never, ever repeat a word from last night,” he finally said. “You understand that?”
The book, "Johnny Carson," is due out Oct. 15.