David Letterman, the 68-year-old Late Show host, closed his 33-year late-night TV career Wednesday with a star-studded episode of Late Show with David Letterman that featured Tina Fey, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld and a musical performance by the Foo Fighters band.
The episode unfolded with a video recording referencing the inaugural address of former President Gerald Ford to fellow Americans following the 1974 resignation of Richard Nixon. Former presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all made the famous Ford statement in a pretaped presentation.
"Our long national nightmare is over - Letterman is retiring," President Obama stated. Letterman appeared next to the president's side. "You're just kidding, right?" Letterman asked.
Letterman, introduced as "a boy from a small town in Indiana," said his final thank you and good night after 33 years and 6,028 broadcasts of his late-night shows on CBS and NBC. The final Late Show airing ran long, some 17 minutes above its usual period, and CBS let the show broadcast without interruptions.
In September, Stephen Colbert will be replacing the transplanted Hoosier, who influenced a generation of performers, created Top 10 lists and made ironic humor staples of television comedy. Letterman endorsed Colbert by saying, "I think he'll do a wonderful job."
Letterman, whose son Harry and wife Regina were in the audience, was serenaded at the finale by the Foo Fighters band, singing "Everlong," the same track they performed when he returned after a successful open-heart surgery in February 2000.
Letterman's emotional message was directed to his loved ones. "Thank you for being my family ... really, nothing else matters, does it?"
From his first episode on NBC's Late Night back in February 1982, Letterman's humor was about more than conveying jokes. He wore a suit of Alka-Seltzer to plunge into a tank of water, tossed watermelons off a roof and even attached a camera to a monkey's back. When Cher defined him with a more profane version of "jerk," it became an unforgettable moment.
Rival Jimmy Kimmel also paid tribute to Letterman by not creating a new ABC show on Wednesday, where he typically competes in the matching time slot. Jimmy Fallon opened his Wednesday monologue by stating: "I want to thank you for watching this on your DVR after you watched Letterman."
One of the Late Night show's most awaited segment was its Top 10 List, and Wednesday's installment was among the most funniest and memorable, with the final category as Top Ten Things I've Always Wanted to Say to Dave, featuring a bunch of celebrities close to the boy from Indiana who became a late-night legend.
Thank you, David Letterman, for the three decades of good memories, and good night.
Photo: Rob Young | Flickr