BURBANK, Calif. – Johnny Carson (search) was remembered Monday on "The Tonight Show" with an affectionate lookback at his nearly 30 years as host, including tributes by comedians and former guests that left many in the audience teary-eyed.
"As a performer, I never wanted to impress anyone more than Johnny Carson," said Jay Leno (search), the show's current host.
Carson died Sunday at 79 after nearly 13 years in retirement. NBC said he died of emphysema — a respiratory disease that can be attributed to smoking.
Leno's guests Monday included Carson favorites Bob Newhart and Don Rickles, as well as comedian Drew Carey (search), singer k.d. lang and Carson's former sidekick, Ed McMahon.
In an interview earlier Monday, McMahon said Carson never lost his edge. When he called Carson in October to wish him a happy birthday, the two started bantering like old times.
"We could have gone on [television] that night and done a 'Carnac' skit. We were that crisp and hot," McMahon told The Associated Press.
The tribute show contained an abundance of archival clips, including one of a dark-haired young Leno making his first appearance as a guest on the "Tonight Show." He would take over as host when Carson retired in 1992.
Others included Carson in one of his signature bits, the mind-reading "Carnac the Magnificent," a routine that David Letterman's band leader Paul Shaffer occasionally still borrows for the "Late Show."
Comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Roseanne, who made their starts on the show, also appeared in clips.
Missing from the show was Carson's longtime bandleader Doc Severinsen, but he made another televised appearance, in which he said he was still grieving.
"I'm still having a problem with it, you know," he said. "I think 'I'm OK, now, OK, I've got everything under control,' and then bam, it hits again."
While the mood on the "Tonight Show" set was often celebratory, there was quiet reflection outside NBC's Burbank studios.
At Johnny Carson Park, adjacent to the studio, a vase of red roses and other flowers had been left at a plaque of the late-night host along with notes that said, "Goodnight Johnny, we'll miss you" and "Nobody did it better than Carson."
"He will be missed by a lot of people, especially his sidekick Ed McMahon," said Basha Kerbel, 73, of Toronto, who came with her husband and received standby tickets for the show. "It's a sad day for everybody. He was liked by so many people."
Debby Kulber, 50, of Cleveland, remembered Carson for his self-deprecating style.
"He was able to laugh at himself. And he made all the guests seem interesting," she said. "He was just very funny."
In Los Angeles, meanwhile, flowers were placed on Carson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
"This is a very sad day in Hollywood and I could tell you that Hollywood hasn't been this shocked since the news flash of Marilyn Monroe's demise," said Johnny Grant, the honorary mayor of Hollywood. "I think we all figured that Johnny Carson would just live on forever."