The son of a traveling salesman, McMahon had a bit of the carnival barker in him. His first job, in fact, was as a carny at age 15. His booming voice and pleasant, non-threatening demeanor were perfect sales tools which he put to good use throughout a long career. In his early years, he hawked fountain pens on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, and kitchenware door-to-door while in college. He joined the military during World War II, and also fought in Korea, retiring as a colonel. His television career was launched in Philadelphia, but it was his job as Johnny Carson's announcer on the 50s game show Who Do You Trust? which was to change his life. When Carson succeeded Jack Paar on The Tonight Show, he dumped announcer Hugh Downs and gave the gig to McMahon. The two worked together for 30 years, with Ed defining the role of talk-show sidekick.
McMahon was the famous face of the Publishers' Clearing House Sweepstakes, and co-hosted the annual Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon since its inception. He hosted the talent competition show Star Search and TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes, and appeared in commercials for Budweiser and Alpo, among other products. But his lasting fame will always be as Carson's set-up man. The two became such a team that McMahon renegotiated his contract to specify that he would only appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny. Whenever one of Carson's many guest hosts took over, McMahon was replaced by bandleader Doc Severinsen.
In recent years, McMahon landed in the news for defaulting on the mortgage on his Beverly Hills estate. He poked fun at his own financial distress in a Superbowl commercial earlier this year.Ed McMahon died today at the age of 86.