There is no doubt that history was made on The Ed Sullivan Show numerous times. From The Beatles legendary American TV debut to Elvis Presley’s first performance on the show. There’s no denying that some of the most important events in television took place on the Sullivan stage, including several controversial performances that will forever remain part of music and television history.
We have compiled a list of the top 5 most controversial performances on The Ed Sullivan Show:
5. Sam Cooke performed on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time on November 3rd, 1957. That night, Sam was the last act scheduled on the show and as he started singing the show was cut off. It was live TV and the show had run too long. The show received many complaints and Ed Sullivan immediately re-booked him. On December 1st, 1957 Sam Cooke came back to the show, this time giving a complete and memorable performance.
4. Jackie Mason’s contract to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show was cancelled after he allegedly gave Ed Sullivan the finger during his October 18th, 1964 performance. While doing his stand-up comedy act, Sullivan signaled that Mason had two minutes left to wrap-up his act. Mason then pointed back at Sullivan and to this day there remains controversy on whether Mason used his middle finger to gesture to Sullivan. After the “finger incident,” Mason was banned from the show. However, Sullivan and Mason sorted out their feud and Mason ultimately came back to perform once more on the show two years later.
3. The Rolling Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show a total of 6 times. Their January 15th 1967 performance is especially memorable, because Mick Jagger was asked to change the lyric of “Let’s Spend The Night Together” to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together.” Unlike Jim Morrison, Mick complied and sang the lyrics as he was told, but emphatically rolled his eyes and sarcastically exaggerated the line.
2. Elvis Presley’s final performance on The Ed Sullivan Show was shot only from the waist up, after CBS censors claimed that his sexy gyrations had stirred up enough controversy across America. At the end of his performance Ed went up on the stage and said “I wanted to say to Elvis Presley and the country that this is a real decent, fine boy, and wherever you go, Elvis, we want to say we’ve never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we’ve had with you. So now let’s have a tremendous hand for a very nice person!” Ed’s ringing endorsement carried a tremendous amount of weight in the households of many conservative Americans at the time.
1. The first and only performance by The Doors on The Ed Sullivan Show takes the top spot on our list. The night of September 17th, 1967, before they went on stage, The Doors were asked by one of the producers of the show to change the lyrics of their hit “Light My Fire.” The producers didn’t want Morrison to sing “Girl we couldn’t get much higher,” and argued that the word “higher” was inappropriate for a family show on national television. However, when the time came to perform, Jim Morrison disobeyed orders and sang the lyrics as they were originally written. A furious Sullivan banned The Doors from ever appearing on his show again.