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Newsom, backup band leader for Carson show, dies

Associated Press • Apr 30, 2007 at 11:36 AM

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - Tommy Newsom, the former backup bandleader on "The Tonight Show" whose "Mr. Excitement" nickname was a running joke for Johnny Carson, has died. He was 78.

Newsom died of cancer at his Portsmouth home Saturday, according to his nephew, Jim Newsom.

Newsom, who played saxophone, joined "The Tonight Show" in 1962 and rose from band member to assistant music director. He retired along with Carson in 1992.

The Tonight Show received five Emmy Awards during Newsom's years on the show, and Newsom won music direction Emmys for "Night of 100 Stars" in 1982 and "The 40th Annual Tony Awards Show" in 1986.

"I hope he will be remembered as a gifted musician," Jim Newsom said Monday in a telephone interview. "I'm sure he will be remembered for his wit and deadpan humor on ‘The Tonight Show.' And to some of us a certain age, he will always be remembered as Mr. Excitement."

That was the nickname Carson gave Newsom to make light of his low-key personality and drab brown and blue suits - a sharp contrast to the flashy style of band leader Doc Severinsen.

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