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Ed McMahon's Surprising Relationship with PCH
Most everyone thinks Ed McMahon delivered big checks for Publishers Clearing House. Here's what his real relationship with PCH was!
Ed McMahon's Surprising Relationship With Publishers Clearing House
Ed McMahon's Surprising Relationship With Publishers Clearing House Ed McMahon Delivered Checks for PCH — True or False?
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Ed McMahon, PCH's Most Famous Not-Spokesman. Ethan Miller / Getty Images
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By Sandra Grauschopf
Updated on 03/20/22
When Ed McMahon passed away, a lot of people asked, "How will Publishers Clearing House notify their winners now?"
The answer is easy: They'll notify their winners the same way they always have... because Ed McMahon never worked for PCH! He never delivered their checks, appeared in their ads, or was associated with them in any official way.
So why do so many people think McMahon was the face of Publishers Clearing House?
Who Was Sweepstakes Celebrity Ed McMahon?:
Anyone who grew up watching Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show is familiar with Ed McMahon's voice. Mc Mahon did the famous introduction for The Tonight Show, calling out his catchphrase, "Heeeeeere's Johnny," every night as the comedian walked on stage.
Ed McMahon worked on The Tonight Show for 30 years, from 1962 to 1992. He also appeared on Star Search from 1983 to 1995 and on TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes as well as in several movies.
Perhaps his most famous role, however, was being a spokesperson for a magazine publishing company that offered big giveaways, which many people know him for today — but it wasn't PCH.
Why Is Ed McMahon Associated with Publishers Clearing House?
A popular sweepstakes myth places Ed McMahon as the spokesman for Publishers Clearing House's multi-million dollar SuperPrize giveaway, surprising winners with an oversized check and a bottle of champagne. If you do a Google search for Ed McMahon and PCH, you'll come up with over 100,000 websites that mention the two names together.
Ed McMahon was never a spokesperson for Publishers Clearing House, who has always notified winners with their popular Prize Patrol. In fact, McMahon worked for a rival company called American Family Publishers.
American Family Publishers (AFP) was a New Jersey-based competitor of Publishers Clearing House with a similar business model. Both companies were direct marketers who sold magazine subscriptions and other products.
Both companies used large sweepstakes to promote themselves, offering prizes worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. And both ran afoul of the law for deceptive sweepstakes practices that caused people to think they had already won a prize that hadn't been drawn yet, or that they needed to make a purchase to win.
AFP, who changed its name to American Family Enterprises, filed for bankruptcy in 1998. So perhaps it's not surprising that many people conflate the two in their minds, remembering the name of the company that's still around.
Ed McMahon and fellow entertainment giant Dick Clark both worked for American Family Publishers, filming commercials for the company — though delivering prizes wasn't part of their job. Neither ever worked with Publishers Clearing House. Perhaps American Family Publishers has passed out of the mainstream consciousness, so people associate their spokesmen with the more famous company.
Want to see the celebrities in action? You can watch an American Family Publishers commercial from 1995 on YouTube, which features both Dick Clark and Ed McMahon.
Controversy Over Who Ed McMahon Really Worked For
The public's determination to associate McMahon with PCH is baffling. Even though PCH has outright declared that Ed McMahon never worked for them, many people insist that they remember him working for the company.
Some people claim that this is an example of a Mandela Effect, a phenomenon where memory doesn't seem to match up with reality. There are conspiracy theories that denying McMahon worked for PCH is some kind of coverup. For example, this video claims to prove that Ed McMahon worked for PCH shows a picture of Ed McMahon and Dick Clark in an advertisement. However, if you look carefully you'll see that the text is slightly blurred, but you can still read that the ad states "American Family Publishing" right on the video.
Some of the confusion may come from pop culture, which often shows McMahon distributing checks for PCH. For example:
Johnny Carson appeared on an episode of David Letterman with a big, fake check with "Publishers Clearing House" printed on it, saying that his sidekick, McMahon, would have brought it himself if he weren't on vacation.
On Roseanne, Ed McMahon has a cameo where he presents Roseanne with a giant check from a "Halloween Sweepstakes" from an unnamed company.
Ed McMahon did a parody rap called "Big Check" about delivering "big fat checks to their door," although even with AFP, he never delivered the checks himself.
'Mandela Effect': Ed McMahon and Publishers Clearing House
Here are eight reasons why so many Americans think they remember entertainer Ed McMahon handing out big checks at people's front doors.
‘Mandela Effect’: Ed McMahon and Publishers Clearing House
‘Mandela Effect’: Ed McMahon and Publishers Clearing House Here are eight reasons why so many Americans think they remember entertainer Ed McMahon handing out big checks at people's front doors.
Published 20 May 2022
Image via Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Entertainer Ed McMahon presented big checks at the doorsteps of Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes winners.
False About this rating
Entertainer Ed McMahon never handed out big checks at the doorsteps of Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes prize winners, nor did he ever work for the company. However, there appears to be a large number of Americans who believe that he did. This is an example of a false memory, known as the “Mandela Effect.”
It’s called the “Mandela Effect” because of the false memory of so many people who believed Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s. In reality, he died in 2013.
The false memory that McMahon gave out big checks to sweepstakes prize winners for Publishers Clearing House likely existed in the minds of many Americans for one or a combination of several reasons.Reason #1: Old Television Commercials
Some readers might fondly remember Publishers Clearing House television commercials from past decades where sweepstakes winners were notified at their doorsteps by PCH Prize Patrol that they had won large cash prizes, sometimes with a big check. However, McMahon never appeared in the ads. Here’s an example of one such commercial:
Reason #2: American Family Publishers
McMahon appeared in television commercials for a company similar to Publishers Clearing House that was named American Family Publishers. However, we found little if any evidence that he ever delivered big checks to doorsteps:Reason #3: McMahon’s Face on Envelopes
While working as a spokesperson for American Family Publishers, a drawing of McMahon’s face appeared on envelopes that were sent to American households. However, his face never appeared on Publishers Clearing House envelopes, because again, he never worked for the company. McMahon hinted at the competition (Publishers Clearing House) and his face on the envelopes in this old television commercial:
Reason #4: 1994 Television Commercial
In 1994, McMahon and fellow spokesperson Dick Clark participated in a television commercial for American Family Publishers. A woman in the ad said that McMahon showed up to her door to present the check. However, we were unable to find any video that documented the purportedly celebratory moment:
Reason #5: Picture of McMahon with Big Check
A photograph shared online appears to show McMahon holding a check that reads, “Big Win.”
Thanks to help from several readers, we confirmed that this was simply a guest appearance by McMahon on the 2004 reality television series titled, “$25 Million Dollar Hoax.”
Reason #6: Neighborhood Watch Television Commercial
In an unknown year, McMahon took part in a commercial for Neighborhood Watch. The idea for the humorous ad was to have McMahon visit people’s doorsteps to sign them up for the program. The script called for the actors who played homeowners to pretend as if they believed they had won a cash prize, simply because McMahon was standing in front of their houses:
Reason #7: Appearances on Sitcoms and Late Night Shows
While there’s no evidence that McMahon ever visited sweepstakes prize winners’ doorsteps for Publishers Clearing House or American Family Publishers, he did appear in several television sitcoms and on late night talk shows doing that very thing (albeit with nondescript checks).
According to screenshots gathered by a YouTube user, McMahon appeared at front doors with big checks on “Roseanne,” “Who’s the Boss?,” “The Nanny,” “Boy Meets World,” and several other shows. The checks sometimes said “Jackpot” or “Sweepstakes” and did not show a company name:
Reason #8: Additional References and Media
On an episode of “The Golden Girls,” actor Betty White once mentioned McMahon working for Publishers Clearing House, even though he never had any association with the company:
We also found three more references. A picture showed that McMahon once handed out a small check as a joke on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Former late night talk show host Johnny Carson once visited “The Late Show with David Letterman,” where he delivered a big (and apparently fake) check with the Publishers Clearing House name, apologizing in jest that McMahon couldn’t be there to present it. There was also a photograph that showed him preparing to present a big check to winners of the MegaBingo Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2003.
All of these examples are likely part of the reason why so many people seem to think that McMahon used to work for Publishers Clearing House where he presented big checks to sweepstakes prize winners at their front doors, even though he did not. The “Mandela Effect” strikes again.
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