The Catholic University of America

June 23, 2009

CUA Mourns the Passing of Alumnus Ed McMahon

Ed McMahon's senior photo from 1949. (Courtesy of Archives of CUA)

Catholic University was saddened to learn of the death of alumnus Ed McMahon on the morning of June 23. McMahon, who became famous as the longtime sidekick of Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show," earned his bachelor's degree in drama from Catholic University in 1949.

"Catholic University has lost one of its most renowned alumni with the passing of Ed McMahon," says University President Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M. "He took such great pride in his alma mater and rarely missed an opportunity to speak positively about his time here in various interviews and books."

Born in Detroit on March 6, 1923, Edward Leo Peter McMahon Jr. came to CUA as a World War II veteran studying under the G.I. Bill. At Catholic University, McMahon studied under Rev. Gilbert Hartke, O.P., who created the drama department at CUA. McMahon would later lead the cause to raise funds to build a theatre on campus in Father Hartke's name.

"Ed was devoted to CUA's legendary Father Hartke only to follow in his footsteps to legend status. 'I owe so much to CU,' McMahon told me at Bob Hope's funeral a few years ago," Father O'Connell adds. "'That's where my career got its start.

"The university is saddened by the loss of yet another great alumnus whose long and distinguished career bears witness to what he learned here," Father O'Connell adds. "May Ed now know the peace of the Lord forever as he joins so many of his beloved CUA friends who have gone before him."

During the years of his television fame, McMahon continued to be active in The Catholic University of America Alumni Association, serving as national president from 1967 to 1971. His celebrity status added excitement to alumni events, especially Homecoming, says Marion Gosney, director of alumni relations.

"Ed helped strengthen the Alumni Association because of his big personality," Gosney says. "He brought people together and was a loyal alumnus. He will certainly be missed."


Rev. Gilbert Hartke, O.P., actress Helen Hayes and McMahon at the 1970 dedication of Hartke Theatre. (Courtesy of Archives of CUA)

In addition to Homecoming, McMahon returned to campus on many occasions. In the fall of 1970, he and actors Helen Hayes and Sidney Poitier attended the dedication of Hartke Theatre. During the spring 1985 Hartke Jubilee, McMahon announced the establishment of the Ed McMahon Endowed Scholarship to assist CUA undergraduates preparing for careers in broadcasting.

In April 1987, McMahon and comedian Bob Newhart performed at the university's centennial celebration. In 1988, an honorary Doctor of Communication Arts degree was conferred upon McMahon.


The Ed McMahon Endowed Scholarship has helped dozens of outstanding students and continues to provide scholarship assistance to juniors and seniors who are pursuing a bachelor's degree in either the Department of Drama or the Department of Media Studies within the School of Arts and Sciences. To make a gift to the Ed McMahon Endowed Scholarship, contact the Office of University Development at 202-319-6910 or make a gift online at