Henry Bushkin ’66 was just four years out of law school when he was tapped by Johnny Carson, already the established star of The Tonight Show, to be his personal attorney. Dubbed “Bombastic Bushkin” by Carson, Bushkin recalls serving as the star’s “lawyer, counselor, partner, employee, business adviser, earpiece, mouthpiece, running buddy, tennis pal, drinking and dining companion, and foil” in a memoir released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in October.
Bushkin’s relationship with Carson began in 1970, when Bushkin reluctantly accompanied Carson and two private eyes to break into an apartment the star’s wife, Joanne, had rented. The break-in marked the end of Carson’s second marriage by confirming his suspicions that Joanne was cheating on him. Forty-three years later, the book’s revelation (excerpted in Entertainment Weekly on October 7) that Joanne’s paramour was football star Frank Gifford made tabloid headlines and prompted a denial from Kathie Lee Gifford, who didn’t marry Frank until more than 15 years after the alleged affair.
In addition to juicy anecdotes about Carson’s wives and the stars in his orbit, Bushkin’s book relates some harrowing incidents. Rejecting the advice of police, Carson personally delivered money to an extortionist who threated his third wife, Joanna, and her son. (The man was arrested right after the handoff.) Tabloids widely reported Bushkin’s tale of the mobster who put out a contract on Carson after the inebriated Tonight Show host hit on his girlfriend in a bar.
Bushkin’s lawyerly advice was frequently ignored. Carson tore up a prenuptial agreement hours before marrying his third wife, an impulsive act that cost the star $35 million eight years later when the couple divorced. But his book was not. In addition to international tabloid headlines, Bushkin’s book garnered rave reviews in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Publisher’s Weekly (which called it “an addictive read”), among others.
Bushkin and Carson’s relationship ended in 1988 with a bitter feud, after which Bushkin practiced law in Los Angeles and New York. With Johnny Carson, “Bombastic Bushkin” gets the last word on his long relationship as a lawyer and confidant to a talented and difficult client.