When an Illinois Farmer Stole the Tonight Show from Johnny Carson
When he was in his heyday, there were few that could rival Johnny Carson. He was known as the king of late night for decades for a reason. But, there was one time when even Johnny would likely have admitted that an Illinois farmer stole the show.
It was February 3, 1988 when a man who was then the oldest farmer in Illinois took the guest chair on The Tonight Show. His name was Merritt Heaton. Even though he was 97 years old, his quick wit completely took over the show. Pay special attention when Merritt talks about his multiple girlfriends at the time.
Make sure to stick around after Johnny took a commercial break as Merritt came back with the lady he was friends with in California at the time. She was a spry 77 years old.
Merritt even has his own IMDb page. As it notes, he was born in West Jersey Township, Illinois and called Toulon, Illinois home. Sadly, Merritt Heaton passed away just over 1 year after his Tonight Show appearance in April of 1989. His gravesite is a simple family marker where he was laid to rest next to his wife who passed 17 years before him.
Find a Grave shows that Merritt Heaton was also honored one year at the Illinois State Fair for his work in agriculture. He said he loved the challenge of farming.
It says a lot about a man who made such an impression on an international TV superstar just being the simple Illinois farmer he was. Long live the memory of Merritt Heaton, the man who stole the Tonight Show from Johnny Carson if only for one night.