As the host of The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson was used to entertaining audiences. And during one December 1985 episode of the series, this experience may have come in handy, as the entertainer encountered a problem that had the potential to derail that particular broadcast. But this unexpected speed bump actually turned out to have an upside. You see, what happened next would end up changing a young man’s life forever – as well as bringing down the house in the process.
Yes, while the young man concerned, David Tolley, entered The Tonight Show’s Burbank studio as an unknown, he emerged as anything but. Such are the twists of fate that can define lives, after all. And more than three decades later, the drama that unfolded on set may seem as unexpected now as it did then.
At first, though, the December 1985 episode started much like any other. Carson had been hosting The Tonight Show for over two decades by that point, and so he was no doubt used to the routine. Even so, on this occasion there was a hitch to proceedings. “Now, let me explain something here: we are in somewhat of a dilemma tonight,” Carson announces in footage from the show. And to begin with, the audience aren’t sure what’s happening.