Edward Leo Peter “Ed” McMahon, Jr. (March 6, 1923 – June 23, 2009) was an American comedian, actor, author, singer, game show host, announcer and U.S. Marine.
McMahon was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Edward Leo Peter McMahon, Sr., a fund-raiser and entertainer, and his wife Eleanor (Russell) McMahon. He was raised in Lowell, Massachusetts often visiting his Aunt Mary Brennan at her home on Chelmsford Street. Ed began his career as a bingo caller in Maine when he was fifteen. Prior to this, he worked as a carnival barker for three years in Mexico, Maine. He put himself through college as a pitchman for vegetable slicers on the Atlantic City boardwalk. His first broadcasting job was at WLLH-AM in his native Lowell and he began his television career in Philadelphia at WCAU-TV.
Hoping to become a Marine Corps fighter pilot in World War II, both the Army and Navy required two years of college for their pilots program. Ed enrolled into classes at Boston College and studied there from 1940–41, before applying for Marine Corps flight training. After completing the college requirement, he was able to join as he previously wished. His primary flight training was in Dallas, followed by fighter training in Pensacola, Florida, where he also earned his carrier landing qualifications. He was a Marine Corps flight instructor for two years, finally being ordered to the Pacific fleet in 1945. However, his orders were canceled after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, forcing Japan’s surrender unconditionally.
As an officer in the Marine Corps reserves, Ed was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. He flew the OE-1; the Marine Corps designation for the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, an unarmed single-engine spotter plane. He functioned as an artillery spotter for the Marine batteries on the ground and as a forward controller for the Navy and Marine fighter bombers. He flew a total of 85 combat missions, earning six Air Medals. After the Korean War, he stayed with the Marines as a reserve officer, retiring in 1966 as a colonel. In 1982, he received a state commission as a brigadier general in the California Air National Guard, an honorary award to recognize his support for the National Guard and Reserves.
After World War II, McMahon studied at The Catholic University of America under the GI Bill and graduated in 1949. He majored in speech and drama while studying under the Reverend Gilbert Hartke and was a member of Phi Kappa Theta fraternity. After graduation, McMahon led the effort to raise funds for a theater to be named for Hartke and attended its dedication in 1970 with Helen Hayes and Sidney Poitier.
While working as Johnny Carson‘s sidekick during The Tonight Show, McMahon served as the president of the national alumni association from 1967 to 1971 and would often return to campus, especially for homecoming. During the University’s centennial celebration in 1987, McMahon and comedian Bob Newhart performed. He received an honorary Doctor of Communication Arts in 1988.
Today, the Ed McMahon Endowed Scholarship helps outstanding students and provides scholarship assistance to juniors and seniors who are pursuing a bachelor’s degree in either the Department of Drama or the Department of Media Studies within the School of Arts and Sciences.
McMahon died on June 23, 2009, at the age of 86, shortly after midnight at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. No formal cause of death was given, but McMahon’s publicist attributed his death to the many health problems he had suffered over his final months. McMahon had said that he still suffered from the injury to his neck in March 2007.