At a tribute to the late sidekick of “The Tonight Show,” Ed McMahon was remembered as a rare individual in the entertainment industry — a man whom “100 percent of the people liked,” actor Tom Arnold said.
Arnold, who worked with McMahon on the 1997 WB sitcom “The Tom Show,” said he envisioned him greeting “Tonight” host Johnny Carson in heaven.
“Hey, Johnny, great news: I brought Farrah (Fawcett) and Michael Jackson with me. We’re gonna have a hell of a show tonight,” Arnold said, drawing laughs from the audience of several hundred at the Wednesday night tribute.
The ceremony at the Television Academy of Arts & Sciences featured performances of “My Way” and other songs, along with solemn salutes from Marines in dress uniforms who presented U.S. flags to McMahon’s family.
McMahon, 86, died June 23 after a long hospitalization for several health problems. He had broken his neck in a fall in March 2007, and battled a series of financial problems as his injuries prevented him from working.
The tribute focused on his unflagging humor and spirit.
“For my dad, life was a festival, a celebratory experience,” said son Jeff McMahon. “No occasion was ever mundane.”
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Mike Lehnert said few knew of McMahon’s military record because “he didn’t flaunt it.”
Lehnert recounted McMahon’s service in World War II as a flight instructor and test pilot, his time in the Marine Reserves and his return to active duty in the Korean War. He flew 85 missions and retired as a full colonel in 1966.
“You lived your life at full throttle,” Lehnert said.
TV host Leeza Gibbons called McMahon a kind “big brother” and an inspiration.
“He could host anything, he could sell anything. And he never ever lost his cool on camera,” she said.
Two oversized, framed images of McMahon decorated the stage in the auditorium. One showed the familiar business-suited TV entertainer. The other, a portrait, depicted McMahon in a flight suit with two military planes aloft behind him.
Daughter Linda McMahon recalled him as a scholar, a poet, a reader of classics, a jazz fan and a generous, big-hearted man who “didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘no.’”
“Until we meet again, Dad, rest now in peace. We love you forever,” she said.
Before the tribute, Pam McMahon choked back tears as she spoke about her husband. She stayed by his side during the five months he was hospitalized before his death.
“He really was one of the most wonderful men I ever met in my entire life,” she said. “He was such a good, good man. He was loving and kind to me and had such a pure heart.”