Johnny Carson’s Nebraskan hometown of Norfolk turned out to salute him on Sunday inside a high school auditorium that bears his name.
The longtime Tonight Show host, an intensely private man who died from emphysema on Jan. 23 at age 79, had requested that there not be a public memorial in Los Angeles – but that didn’t stop his old pals in Norfolk, many of whom had gone to school with him.
Lois Voecks, one of the 1,000 people in attendance, told the Associated Press that Carson sat behind her in homeroom and performed magic for students during Friday convocations.
“We used to see him later in the hallway, and we would look back at him and say, ‘That’s the same guy? He seems just like us,'” she said.
Jeff Burkink, who was principal of Norfolk High School in the 1980s when Carson gave $600,000 to the school to build a new performing arts center, said Carson never forgot his roots, and came back to the school in 1976 to deliver the school’s commencement address.
“He was nervous,” Burkink said. “He said he didn’t want to be a flop in his hometown. But the minute he stood up there, he was humorous and relaxed. He was right at home with a microphone.”
Carson was remembered as a generous friend to Norfolk. Among the donations that were made public, Carson contributed more than $5 million, including $2.27 million for a regional cancer radiation center. His Presidential Medal of Freedom was also given to a museum there to place on display.
On Monday, Carson’s acolyte David letterman is finally going to be able to present his tribute. Among guests slated to appear on CBS’s Late Show, reports The New York Times, are Tonight‘s executive producer and Carson close friend Peter Lassally, the show band leader Doc Severinson and two of his musicians, drummer Ed Shaughnessy and sax player Tommy Newsom – whom Carson often teased on-camera.