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The X Files
Xavier Hermosillo is the President of, a national Crisis Communications, Marketing, and Management firm he founded 23 years ago. He is a former political chief of staff, an award-winning reporter and photographer, and a former radio talk show host and TV commentator in Los Angeles. He has co-founded two publicly-traded companies where he served as a member of the Board of Directors and as the Senior Vice President of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications. He has also served as a Hearing Examiner for the Los Angeles Police Commission on police officer discipline cases, and holds degrees in Administration of Justice and Business and Communications. He can be reached at

Time to reminisce a bit and remember the impacts people have on our lives.

The recent death of Johnny Carson was to me, more than just the loss of a television icon, it had a personal connection I hadn't often thought about.

People who are NOT in the media don't realize that after a while, people in the "business" sometimes forget about all the famous folks they have interviewed or met and it's "no big deal" to have been around celebrities. I guess I have to please guilty to that kind of snobbishness, if that's the appropriate term.

Until I was reminded last summer by a former classmate, I had forgotten about my appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1987. So I felt an extra twinge when the news of Johnny's passing hit the news. It was the same kind of feeling I experienced when former President Richard Nixon died in the mid-90s. I realized how fortunate I had been to be around such important people, and glad that I never let the rubbing elbows with great people like them go to my head and worsen an already heavy load of ego.

Both my media career and my business career have taken me to planned and unplanned meetings with Hollywood and professional sports celebrities, Governors, three Presidents, a King and some foreign dignitaries, but it was just a part of the work.

However, my encounters with Nixon and Carson were special.

I won the right to interview President Nixon as a result of winning a high school journalism writing contest and I was petrified at the thought of making a total fool of myself in the White House. I wanted to back out because it was so foreign for me to accept that a as a former gang member growing up in the federal housing projects at the waterfront, I was going to sit face to face with the most powerful man in the world.

My late, great mother Blanca, a die-hard Democrat who despised Republicans, would NEVER allow me to back out. She used a little psychological trick to motivate me and at the same time, get a little partisan dig into Nixon. It worked and to this day, it helps me get through tough interviews and meetings.

She started by reminding me that Richard Nixon was just another guy puts his pants on one leg at a time so I shouldn't fear him. That wasn't enough, I told her. "What if I panic or get intimidated by his stare?" Mom had all the answers.

"Just imagine him sitting on the toilet with his pants up around his knees," she said. "He's no different than you." It worked. The interview was easy and the one time I started to panic, I envisioned the 37th President of the United States sitting on the crapper.

When Nixon died the night of April 22, 1994, I was preparing to do my commentary at KCOP, Channel 13 in Los Angeles. I dropped my prepared commentary and instead, focused on not only the quixotic life of Richard Nixon, but also my own brief experience with him. My interaction with him had been a rare opportunity, but an especially good one that left a lifelong impression on me.

The Johnny Carson experience was a lot different than with Nixon, but it was also very remarkable for me because it took me to a new level of risk-taking in my life.

It was 1986 and I was the chief negotiator for a deal to build a stadium for the then-Los Angeles Raiders NFL team in a small town in the San Gabriel Valley called Irwindale, known only in industrial circles as the home of gravel pits. It was a Latino community controlled by five families but with a tremendous amount of wealth from the rock quarries that dotted the landscape. The city council had approved giving the team a non-refundable, $10-million deposit for the right to negotiate exclusively on the new stadium, and I was the lucky one who actually handed the check to Raiders' owner Al Davis.

The deal became a national story and the notion that a city of 1,040 could take the Raiders from Los Angeles shocked so many in the sports and business worlds and it opened the way for a lot of media opportunities for me. From the Today Show to Nightline, I had a great time. But when the Johnny Carson show called, I was so shocked I was sure someone was playing a joke on me.

It was no joke. Johnny himself, I later learned, thought it would be a hoot to interview me not in the studio like he usually did with his guests, but behind a desk on a ledge INSIDE the gravel pit where we wanted to build the new Raider Stadium.

I met the camera crew at the pit, they wired me with a microphone, and shortly after 6:30 p.m. on a warm summer night, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson got underway. I was the first interview after Johnny's monologue because no one wanted to be in the pit once the sun went down.

The interview started easy enough until Johnny started banging on the small town that was "stealing" the Raiders from L.A. Johnny's writers had given him a lot of nasty ammo and I was not happy about it. Unfortunately, at the time, I took some umbrage at seeing a small successful city of Latinos being ridiculed on national television.

So I launched into a spontaneous comedy-like routine that totally caught Johnny off-guard and was fed by his shock at my conduct. I recall him saying to me, somewhat miffed or bewildered (I never knew which) "Hey, who's in charge here?" and I quickly replied, "Me, if you think you're going to slam a wonderful little city like Irwindale."

Johnny didn't miss a beat, of course, and before I could complete my sentence, he came back with "Well, I guess all that dirty air in that gravel pit has gone to your head." He was right and it drew a big laugh from his audience.

With the last punch line I will probably ever be able to claim in my life in the media, I fired back: "Well being in this gravel pit beats 'Beautiful Downtown Burbank' where life is really the "pits'."
For those of you who remember, Johnny always referred to his studio digs as being in "Beautiful Downtown Burbank."

I got one last laugh out of the audience but Johnny decided he'd had enough of my one-liners and he deftly hung up the phone connection and feigned a technical problem. I thought my first AND last appearance on the Tonight Show had been a bust. I later learned from Johnny's booking producer, the late Jim McCawley, that the legend of television comedy had SLIGHTLY enjoyed being caught off guard and appreciated my quick retorts upon further reflection.

I later met Johnny Carson face to face at a party at the Malibu home of another famous celebrity and when I reminded him of my gravel pit challenge to him, he smiled and told me,"That's okay. You'll never make it in comedy because you can't take a joke." He was right that I would never make it as a comedian, but my wife and kids have been telling me that for years.

Nevertheless, when news of Johnny's death reached me during a business trip to North Carolina, I reflected on a big lesson I learned from him and from being on his show. I learned it's good to take risks, but not to let your ego or a knee-jerk reaction get you in over your head.

I also learned from Johnny Carson that when you have arrived at the pinnacle of your life, as he had, you can feel comfortable being on top, being in charge, and politely telling some buffoon that he's really not that funny. And Johnny could say it with the greatest of respect and the greatest of ease.

And though he may never have realized it, like Richard Nixon, he taught me to be grateful for lessons learned from great people.