03/02/2009 at 01:50 PM EST
Family and friends of Ed McMahon are looking forward to celebrating the affable pitchman's 86th birthday Friday – even as he is battling pneumonia and other illnesses in the ICU of a Los Angeles hospital, the family's spokesman tells PEOPLE.
"I'm not a medical doctor, I'm a spin doctor, so I'm not able to give a diagnosis here," says McMahon publicist Howard Bragman. "What I can tell you is this: I've seen many people come up to Ed over the years and say, 'You were a Marine.' Ed would look them in the eye and say, 'I am a Marine.' "
McMahon, who was a Marine fighter pilot in the Korean War, has been hospitalized for the past month. Members of his family are at the ICU at his bedside around the clock.
Bragman says McMahon has approached his latest fight with the same determination he has faced other troubles. "What [his Marine Corps training] means for his current medical challenges," says Bragman, "is the same thing it's meant for every challenge he's ever faced in life. It means he's a fighter – not a quitter. It means he's confronting it head-on with strength, courage and dignity."
Best known for his years next to Johnny Carson's desk on NBC's Tonight Show – as well as the emcee of Star Search – Mahon, was in the news last year for his financial problems that resulted in the near-foreclosure of his Beverly Hills-area home.
Bragman asks McMahon's fans to "say a prayer, remain hopeful and send their good wishes, because Colonel McMahon is still fighting the good fight."