Ed McMahon's Surprising Relationship With Publishers Clearing House

Ed McMahon Delivered Checks for PCH — True or False?

2006 Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon - Day 2
Ed McMahon, PCH's Most Famous Not-Spokesman. Ethan Miller / Getty Images

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.
  • On Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Ed McMahon appears with an oversized check for $10 million from the "Heeerrre's Money Sweepstakes" from an unnamed company.

Ed McMahon made a number of guest appearances on popular television shows, playing off his reputation of making dreams come true by delivering millions of dollars to people's doors. But that was fiction, not reality.