By Brian Williams, Anchor and managing editor
My boss sent me an email early this morning so I'd hear the news before I saw it on the Today Show. Ed McMahon had lost his battle to bone cancer and other related illnesses. I last spoke with Ed by phone not too long ago -- it was an "arranged" call -- his assistant called me in advance to say that Ed wanted to pass along a compliment about a segment he'd seen on Nightly News, and she wanted to be sure I'd be around to take the call. Ed knew I'd "attended" (however briefly and unsuccessfully) Catholic University in Washington, where he went to college, and we obviously shared the NBC family tie. He was a sweet man, and a legend around here -- as he was in millions of American homes. In talking to friends and co-workers today, everyone reminisced about their own favorite memory of Ed. Chuck Todd wanted to be sure we remembered the years he put in at Jerry Lewis' side on the MD Telethon every Labor Day weekend.
Others just remembered Ed's voice as the "gateway" to late night television each weeknight -- in an era where there were few choices and the Tonight Show was the dominant program in the time period, and held huge sway over the national zeitgeist. Ed was a pro, a great broadcaster and a great sidekick. He played a role, and he knew it. He relished it, he studied his own performance and he perfected it. He was the best straight man there ever was, and Ed became great in his own right, oddly, by realizing it was always about Johnny.
My own children only saw the Ed of later life -- the toastmaster and pitchman, the guy in the Super Bowl commercial who was clearly struggling with old age and illness. Today, however, I was happy to be my age -- because it meant my TV viewing years intersected with the golden age of Ed McMahon. He was 86, and he lives on in our hearts and prayers. Please leave me a post on your favorite Ed McMahon memory, if you have one. And please join us for the broadcast tonight.