Happy Days Again: Heeeeeeere's Johnny

04/30/2002 at 01:00 PM EDT

The man who put America to bed for 30 years has resurfaced in the pages of Esquire magazine, with a profile of late night-king Johnny Carson, 76, by writer Bill Zehme -- who insisted to Matt Lauer on Monday's "Today" show that his story is "not an interview," but rather a profile of and informal conversation with the TV icon, pegged to the 10th anniversary of his departure from the "Tonight" show. The story offers plenty of insights into Carson as well as some of his signature great quips. Carson, said Zehme, is happy playing tennis and enjoying his passion for sailing. He also taught himself Swahili -- and gets a kick out of watching reality shows such as "The Chamber," "Fear Factor" and "Survivor." He says he called NBC president Bob Wright during the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal and said, "It's John. I regret (leaving). I haven't seen such an abundance of material in my life! . . . It's almost funnier than any jokes you could make." Carson also admits in the article that he still has nightmares about being late for his show. "It's frightening, because I'm not prepared," Carson says. "It's show time, and I'm going on -- and I've got nothing to say! Jesus! I wake up in a sweat." Would Carson ever return to the scene? No way, writes Zehme. "Johnny is a pure Midwestern stoic. He keeps his word. There is no waffling." As Zehme told Lauer, Carson was asked to be a surprise guest last year when Steve Martin hosted the Oscars. But Carson actually feared that he would receive a standing ovation. "And just the way he said 'standing ovation,'" said Zehme, "you could tell that wasn't for him."

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