David Letterman closed his 33-year late-night TV career Wednesday with a star-studded, emotional episode of “Late Show” that featured Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Tina Fey and a musical performance by the Foo Fighters.
The episode opened with a video clip from former Gerald Ford’s inaugural address: “Our long national nightmare is over,” Ford said. George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and President Obama followed in pre-taped appearances to repeat Ford’s statement.
“Our long national nightmare is over -- Letterman is retiring,” President Obama said.
Letterman appeared next to him.
“You’re just kidding, right?” Letterman said.
Letterman, 68 -- introduced as “a boy from a small town in Indiana” -- was greeted with a standing ovation when he entered the Ed Sullivan Theater stage, the audience applauding Letterman’s 6,028-episode career. He discussed his future job options during his monologue.
“I am sick and tired ... [of hearing] 'What are you doing to do now that you’re retired?' You know what I’m going to do now that I’m retired? I hope to become the new face of Scientology,” Letterman said.
He also joked about being passed over to replace Johnny Carson on “Tonight Show” in the early 1990s, with Jay Leno getting the job instead -- and Letterman moving to CBS, where he’s been since 1993.
“I’ll be honest with you: It’s beginning to look like I won’t get the ‘Tonight Show!’” Letterman said.
The episode was interspersed with video clips from some of the show’s famous, memorable and poignant segments, a chance to reflect on three decades of pop culture, three decades of humor.
One of the show’s enduring segments was its Top Ten List, and Wednesday’s installment was among the most memorable: Top Ten Things I’ve Always Wanted to Say to Dave, featuring a bevy of celebrities.
As the episode reached its closing moments, Letterman reflected on the show’s legacy and the celebration of his successes. He departs as the most seasoned host in late-night history and ranks among its most influential. Of the years on air,
“A high percentage of those shows absolutely sucked,” he said.
Letterman also looked to downplay the glowing tributes bestowed on him as he enters the next phase of his life.
“Save a little for my funeral. I’d appreciate it,” he said.
He reserved special mention for his family, honoring wife Regina and son Harry, who were sitting in the audience. He also mentioned his son’s friend Tommy Romano, who was sitting beside a bemused Harry.
“Thank you for being my family. ... Really, nothing else matters, does it?” he said.
Then it was time for the Foo Fighters, time to find the tissues. Letterman lists the group’s song “Everlong” among his favorites, and the Foo Fighters had performed the song when Letterman returned to the air following open-heart surgery in 2000.
The group, clad in tuxedos and awash in red light, played the song as photos from Letterman’s late-night career appeared on the TV screen. Many of the people featured, including George Burns, Andy Kauffman to Warren Zevon, have passed away. But there were funny moments, too: Letterman driving into a Christmas tree. Chris Elliott in ridiculous outfits. Larry “Bud” Melman’s wonderful presence. The Drew Barrymore situation. The Madonna situation. Throwing things. Blowing up things.
Three decades of memories later and here we are, celebrating the boy from Indiana who became a late-night legend.