Henry Bushkin
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Henry Bushkin

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Johnny Carson's closest confidant for 18 years


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Henry Bushkin

Henry BushkinJohnny Carson's closest confidant for 18 years

Henry Bushkin is a lawyer living in Los Angeles. For 18 years, he was Johnny Carson’s personal legal adviser, fixer, confidant, and close friend. 

Throughout the three decades (1962 to 1992) Johnny Carson hosted NBC’s The Tonight Show, he captivated millions of viewers nightly with his sharp wit, self-deprecating humor, and dapper style. Carson became an indelible pop culture icon, as well as the highest paid entertainer of the era. But, despite his ubiquitous presence in the media, Carson remained an enigma. 

Long-time lawyer, best friend, and wingman, Henry Bushkin, shows us the showman as no one else could. Bushkin unveils a man beloved by his audience but painfully at odds with himself, constantly suffering from the emotional turmoil of multiple failed marriages, his own absentee fatherhood, and his tough-as-nails mother. 

Bushkin, just starting his career in entertainment law, was thrilled when a mutual acquaintance proposed he meet with Carson, who was in need of new counsel in 1970. Bushkin nervously but eagerly accepted the invitation to meet at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. This brief meeting would launch an 18 year relationship full of hushed negotiations, unbridled luxury, and dangerous encounters,  the first of which included a late-night break-in to the secret Manhattan apartment of Carson’s second wife, whom he suspected was having an affair. (Apparently she was—with a very famous football player.) Once Carson’s suspicions were confirmed, he appointed Bushkin to handle the divorce proceedings, and the young lawyer officially became Carson’s right-hand man. 

In the years that followed, Bushkin’s role in Carson’s life became increasingly involved and complex. He was equal parts sounding board, drinking buddy, tennis partner, business manager, and all-around “quicker picker upper”— trusted to clean up any mess that impeded Carson’s productivity or happiness. 

Henry Bushkin gives audiences the definitive account of Carson as an entertainer, a husband, a father, a businessman, and a friend. Bushkin shows the man in all his complexity at the apex of his career—his outsize talent, frequent acts of kindness and generosity, and vivacity—and unveils the soul of a man beloved by millions, but known by very few. 

Drama at the Presidential Inauguration:  In 1980, Frank Sinatra invited Carson to emcee the Inaugural Gala show for President Ronald Reagan. What should have been a seminal moment in a performer’s career quickly turned sour when an already reluctant Carson grew increasingly unsatisfied with the event. 

When ABC Tried to Steal Carson from NBC:   An insider’s moment to moment, eye-witness account of ABC’s most powerful executives competing at the highest level to steal the King of Late Night from NBC. Secret negotiations took place between Carson, Bushkin and ABC’s top brass aboard a yacht in international waters, to ensure that even a minor contract infraction was not breached. 

Carson Productions:   After the long-fought legal dispute with NBC was settled in Carson’s favor in 1980, Carson and Carson Productions became the owners and producers of The Tonight Show. NBC also agreed to air a minimum of five series that Carson Productions developed. A deal of this scope and influence was among the first of its kind in the entertainment industry. 

What Happens in Vegas:  Carson was a fixture of Vegas in the 70s, headlining for years at Caesar’s Palace. His offstage adventures – often with a retinue that included Bushkin – were legendary. Their long-standing rule: no wives allowed. 

The King of Late Night and The King of Rock and Roll:   Bushkin was present when Carson and Elvis Presley met backstage after one of Carson’s Vegas shows. They traded quips and compliments, and years later, Carson offered a bluntly eloquent tribute: “If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.” 

Johnny and Joan:  Carson was an early champion of Joan Rivers, ultimately making her his regular substitute host at The Tonight Show. So he was devastated when she suddenly launched her own rival program on Fox. The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers debuted in October of 1986, and Bushkin deftly chronicles the rise and aftermath of one of the most notorious late night feuds in Hollywood history.



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