For most of the time McMahon announced for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and I was alive, I was too young to stay up late enough to watch it. During those years, Star Search was appointment TV in my household.
All the articles in memoriam for Ed McMahon list him as “sidekick”. A sidekick is a yes man in corporate America. A contraband mule for a pop music artist. A Presidential running mate who’ll say anything to get on the ticket, but hasn’t done much to deserve being on the ticket (ehem John Edwards). A sidekick is an actress’s personal assistant who can be counted on to spill the beans to a checkout aisle tabloid the minute the “former” appears in front of their job title.
McMahon was a wingman. I think its more than a subtle distinction. In personal and professional life, a sidekick is a replaceable subordinate that reveals themselves to be a detriment, a wingman is an essential peer that’s more valuable than you may ever fully realize.
Below is a video of Ed McMahon on Hardball with Chris Matthews a few years back where he discusses his days as a Marine Corps Pilot. Ed lays out his role of squadron wingman for Matthews. John Glenn, the astronaut and senator who (like McMahon) was also a decorated Marine Corps Pilot in WWII and Korea who retired with rank of Colonel, listens and nods approvingly.
“In a military flying element, you have a wingman. You would think as much of that wingman as any other person in life.”