Johnny Carson's sidekick Ed McMahon never worked for Publishers Clearing House, although he did work as a spokesman for a very similarly named company, American Family Publishing. The reason why people might be convinced he did can be credited to the "Mandela Effect." The "Mandela Effect" is a false memory, like people being convinced Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s when in reality he lived until 2013.
Publishers Clearing House (PCH) is a marketing company that sells merchandise and magazine subscriptions but is best known for its sweepstakes with large cash prizes. During the 1980s and 1990s, their commercials were inescapable. They featured Americans being presented with large checks that could change their lives. However, the company was accused of misleading customers about the odds of really winning. In 2000, Congress responded to these concerns with the Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act to regulate direct mailing businesses. PCH has settled lawsuits with all 50 states.
PCH and American Family Publishing (AFP), the magazine subscription company McMahon really did work for, were often mistaken for each other. This could explain why people became convinced McMahon worked for PCH. AFP was similar to PCH in that they relied heavily on sweepstakes promotions. McMahon's face was even featured on the mailings customers received. In the commercials, McMahon claimed he would "personally" visit contest winners. His face was not on PCH mailings.
There is also a photo of McMahon holding a giant check for "at least" $5 million, but it includes the logo "Big Win" instead of PCH's logo. As Snopes points out, this image is from a guest appearance McMahon made on NBC's 2004 reality series $25 Million Dollar Hoax. McMahon also appeared in a commercial for Neighborhood Watch, in which homeowners are surprised to see McMahon ask them to sign up for the program instead of presenting them with a cash prize.
McMahon also made frequent appearances on sitcoms to deliver giant checks to characters. As one YouTuber points out, McMahon did this in episodes of Roseanne, Who's The Boss?, The Nanny, and Boy Meets World. McMahon also handed out a small check to Jay Leno on The Tonight Show as a joke. In an episode of The Golden Girls, Betty White's character also says McMahon works for PCH.
Snopes also discovered McMahon's interview with Tom Green, in which McMahon claims he handed out $110 million in prizes. He said he really did "walk up to people's doorsteps" to hand-deliver the winnings. After AFP hired Dick Clark, he would join McMahon to deliver the prizes. However, Snopes found no images or video of McMahon making the deliveries.
McMahon is still beloved today for his 30-year-long partnership with Carson. They began working together in 1957 on the game show Who Do You Trust?. When Carson took over NBC's The Tonight Show, McMahon joined him until Carson retired in 1992. McMahon also hosted Star Search and TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokers. McMahon died on June 23, 2009, at 86.