Ed McMahon passed away today and while most people remember him as Johnny Carson's loyal sidekick on "The Tonight Show," I remember him as my mail friend.
Over the years Mr. McMahon became a paid spokesman for many products and companies, including Budweiser beer, Alpo dog food, Chris-Craft boats, Texas Instruments, Breck shampoo, Sara Lee baked goods and Mercedes-Benz. His name and photograph were fixtures on the form letters mailed by American Family Publishers announcing sweepstakes winners. [Link]
Here's a column I wrote in 1998 about my friend, Ed:
ED MCMAHON WILL MAKE ME RICH
I like getting mail. When I stick my hand in the mailbox, I don't like to grab air. Air makes me feel like nobody loves me.
About once a week, I grab air. I'd do it more often if it weren't for my buddy, Ed McMahon. Ed loves me more than my family does. They're too busy to write to me.
Not Ed. He writes nice, personal letters to me. He's a celebrity, but he doesn't mind communicating with regular folks like me.
Ed wants me to get rich someday. He has higher expectations for me than my mother. And he's never met me.
When Ed makes me rich, my friends will be jealous. They won't know what to say. They might want to meet Ed, but I won't introduce them. He might start writing to them and forget about me.
No, Ed and I are going to remain a team. Like him and Johnny. I don't want him to write to anyone else in America, not even his little brother, Jim McMahon.
If it weren't for Ed, I'd have no hopes of being filthy rich, just filthy. I've been working all these years and all I've managed to save is some dust. Even that doesn't amount to much.
My job pays OK, but somehow the money disappears. Poof! It's my monthly magic trick.
I blame the other mail I get: the bills. They fill my mailbox and empty my bank account. I pay all kind of bills: credit cards, electricity, rent, telephone, car, cable, insurance … It's a wonder no one bills me for breathing.
I won't be surprised if, one of these days, I get an air bill. Breathing fresh air could become a luxury. I'd even have to pay to grab the air in my mailbox.
If that happens, I'd have to borrow some money. My paycheck can't be stretched that far. That won't be a major problem though. I'd borrow the money from my best friend, Ed.
I know he'd lend it to me. He's been writing to me so many years, I know he cares about me. He isn't one of those celebrities who say anything to make a quick buck. You know the kind I'm talking about. They stand behind any product they're not allergic to. One day, they're touting Pepsodent; the next day, Polident.
Not Ed. He's as sincere as that smile on the photo he sends me. He doesn't smile like that for just anyone.
Ed was the most sincere person on The Tonight Show. When Johnny Carson cracked a joke, Ed never held back a laugh. He didn't care that Johnny was the star and he was just a big laugh machine.
Ed's ego is like my bank account.
Ed is the only person I've never met who spells my last name right every time. He's a little proud of that, I think, because he keeps repeating my name throughout his letter.
"Melvin Durai, you're a few steps away from becoming a millionaire," Ed writes. I like to hear this. Before Ed started writing, I thought I was a few steps away from becoming a bum.
Ed knows how to boost my spirits and keep me hunting for the American dream. Even as I write checks for a pile of bills, I gain inspiration from Ed's letter. I imagine my name on a large check. One that doesn't bounce.
The check would be big enough for me to buy some of the companies that keep sending me bills. Or better yet, I'd buy one of their creditors and demand payment immediately.
I can't wait for that day. Come on, Ed. Tell me more.