David Letterman’s star-studded ‘Late Night’ finale: fitting end to an era?

David Letterman

Last night, David Letterman’s final Late Night episode aired, which concludes a 30+ year television career. I’ve been bracing for the impact since Dave’s announcement in April 2014, but the tears still arrived two nights in a row. Bill Murray appeared as Dave’s final guest on Tuesday’s penultimate episode. He was also Dave’s first guest, and their friendship deepened over the decades. Bill busted out of a cake before leading a crowd chant. These two guys are both idols of mine, and their interwined careers are the stuff of legends.

Dave, 68, who was the best late-night interviewer in the business, didn’t seem emotional about leaving the show. He seemed ready. Dave has the distinct (and rare) pleasure of going out on top. No one will ever be able to accuse him of losing his edge. He’ll always be cherished and missed. Even Dave’s fellow late night hosts paid tribute. Jimmy Kimmel bid farewell to Dave with an emotional speech. He chose to air a rerun and asked his audience to tune into Letterman. Likewise, Conan O’Brien told his viewers to change the channel.

Dave’s final entrance received a standing ovation that never wanted to end. Dave joked that his retirement would be eventful: “I hope to become the new face of Scientology.” He also said, “When I screw up, I have to go on somebody else’s show to apologize.” This was a subtle reference to the 2009 scandal where Dave revealed his affair with a staffer. The way Dave handled the situation was frank and well spoken. He didn’t dwell on the matter last night, but he knew people would remember the one red mark in his otherwise stellar history.

The farewell show itself was a classy, laid-back occasion with retrospectives and a comedian-studded Top 20 list called “Things I’ve Always Wanted to Say to Dave” list (screencaps below). Bill Murray read the final entry, and then they had an awesome hug.

Bill Murray

Dave ended his show by thanking his wife and son, who sat with the audience. He introduced his favorite band, The Foo Fighters, for a special performance of “Everlong.” (The band famously performed the song when Dave returned from quintuple-bypass surgery in 2000.) Dave Grohl and his boys actually wore tuxes for the occasion! As the Foos did their thing, a highlights clip played and fireworks went off outside the Ed Sullivan theater. The screen froze as Dave raised his hand to the audience a final time. #ThanksDave

David Letterman

Tina Fey

Chris Rock

Bill Murray

Photos courtesy of WENN

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59 Responses to “David Letterman’s star-studded ‘Late Night’ finale: fitting end to an era?”

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  1. PunkyMomma says:

    And that’s how you go out in style. Happy Trails, Dave – you earned it . . . .

    • joan says:

      It was just a perfect finale, especially so many charming clips of kids and other really funny regular people. Dave’s at his best and realest with little kids and with “ordinary people” — he’s so down to earth.

  2. blue marie says:

    No one else could do it like he did. I will miss him on my tv every weeknight.

    • lisa says:

      me too , i really felt like it was an end of an era, not just for him but for me

      i was watching dave when i was a kid and we had no cable and he was it. i used to go to the live show sometimes. i will miss him.

  3. Ms. Lib says:

    You were right on with your description of Dave’s last night’s show: “classy, laid-back occasion…” He has a Top 10 list and last night’s was memorable with some of his favorite celebrities! His reaction to Peyton Manning was so typical of Dave.
    The show was well done and so is your coverage.

  4. MrsBPitt says:

    Love Dave!!!! Jimmy Fallon was all class, putting on a rerun…..ain’t nobody watching poor Conan….I hope Leno was home, crying with jealousy!!!

  5. Lilacflowers says:

    He was, by far, the best political interviewer who has ever been on a late-night talk show and that ability to ask real questions will be sorely missed, as will his creativity. The tributes to his staff and frequent visitors over the past few weeks have been truly touching. That Foo Fighters story was amazing.

    And those final montages were everything.

    • Kiddo says:

      I hope Colbert doesn’t turn into another celeb-ass-kiss. That was the best part of Dave; he suffered no fools, no matter how famous.

      • belle de jour says:

        Colbert gleefully skewers fools by acting a bigger one… right in front of them. I have every confidence that once he’s found his groove apart from his familiar persona, he’s going to be just great. (My only fear on that score is that he’ll face more censorship than I’d like switching from cable to network.)

      • Kiddo says:

        He won’t have the fake persona to hide behind. That’s my concern. That he might lose that camouflaged acerbic wit, while being himself.

      • Lilacflowers says:

        And no matter how powerful. After John McCain, whom he considered a friend, lied to him and cancelled an appearance last minute, his reaction and follow up were comic gold until McCain went on to humbly apologize

      • belle de jour says:

        He won’t lose the backbone; he’s extremely smart – and reverent, but skillfully & unavoidably irreverent – to the bone.
        He’s also taking his posse with him.

      • Sooloo says:

        This is exactly why I always thought Dave was by far the worst of the late-night hosts – his genuine, obvious disinterest in or maybe aloofness toward his guests, or maybe it just came off that way because he was so into that “suffer no fools” persona, but he could not have seemed more like he wished he weren’t sitting there listening to the person responding to his questions. His monologues weren’t funny, most of the time his top 10 lists weren’t funny, just everything about his personality and his show was such a bore and a huge turn-off. I was always so surprised to hear people rave about him; there was no one worse than Dave, in my opinion, so while I can’t say I’m glad he’s gone (I never watched his crappy show in the first place), I certainly don’t care one bit.

  6. BengalCat2000 says:

    I regret never sending him video of my Stupid Human Trick. I didn’t get to watch him as much as I should have, and he could be brutal to his guests, but he always made me laugh.
    Godspeed Dave!!!

  7. Mia4S says:

    A beautiful capper. The gratitude he expressed should be a lesson to everyone. Conan’s story of Dave “rescuing” him I think told us all we needed to know (and choked me up!). For all his faults, Dave helped and did so without seeking payback or accolades. Wishing him a happy and healthy next chapter!

    • Lilacflowers says:

      The way he showcased so many of the backstage crew and how they were the final montage after the Foo Fighters was truly touching

  8. Kiddo says:

    It was great. I liked the retrospectives, especially Dave interacting with kids. I wondered why the Foo Fighters of all bands and that story was incredibly sweet.

    • Lori says:

      I believe Dave is a big Grunge fan. Foo Pearl Jam, Hole, Nirvana………..those are his favorites.

      • Kiddo says:

        Yeah, but they canceled a tour to do his show after his heart surgery. That makes me love them.

      • BengalCat2000 says:

        He was a big supporter of young bands as well. REM made their first live performance on his show, and Dave dedicated an entireshow to Warren Zevon when he was dying of cancer and had him on a lot.

      • Lilacflowers says:

        He is a huge music fan with exceptional taste who has given opportunities to many new bands and shone a light on some older, lesser known but incredibly gifted musicians. The list of people who have “sat in” with the house band is mind boggling

    • Adrien says:

      Dave, like Fallon was a huge fan of alternative music. Back in the early 90s, he invited indie artists and unknown British bands to his show. His show introduced me to Pulp and other indie bands.

    • Lilacflowers says:

      That story was awesome

  9. Beaner says:

    The reel of him with kids through the years had me crying with laughter.

  10. Adrien says:

    .No Richard Simmons 🙁
    Wonder how Richard is doing? I hope he’s OK.

    • Msmlnp says:

      I’m so glad you noticed that! Poor Richard! He hasn’t been on in years but was always entertaining when he was! I was hoping to see him myself.

  11. Luca76 says:

    End of an era. I just remember how subversive he was and so much funnier than everyone else and how much he pissed people off with glee and how on his NBC show you felt like anything could happen. Now he’s just a cuddly curmudgeon and instead of not being allowed to watch his show Im not able to because I fall asleep so early.
    Well I hope he enjoys his family and retirement. Thank you Dave!

    • Jackson says:

      I just read a good article on UPROXX re what millennials should know about Dave and why he was a big deal. Very true what you said – it felt like anything could happen on his show back in the day. That’s something that mellowed over the years, but it’s what I will always remember him for.

      • Meaghan says:

        Ive never heard of UPROXX, so thanks for the discovery! I have something to do this morning at work!

      • belle de jour says:

        +10000. And sometimes people forget that his brand of low-key, detached irony was new & felt exciting and subversive at the time. He was enough of an Indiana boy to make some people feel comfortable, and enough of a dark humor realist to make others feel uncomfortably interested.

  12. Jackson says:

    It was a very fitting finale and a great last week for a one-of-a-kind late night host. I tuned in less and less over the last several years but it was still nice to put him on once in awhile. He was the best of all the hosts at interviewing celebs because you would see him go off script and ask them things they didn’t want to address. I applaud him for that. College and my 20s wouldn’t have been the same without ya, Dave. Happy trails.

  13. Pri says:

    Am I the only one who was not a fan? I mean, the constant leering at women was not my cup of tea.

    • Tough Cookie says:

      Me either. Tried to watch his show a couple of times and gave up. I did however always make it a point to record Darlene Love’s performance every year.

      • Kiddo says:

        It was better in the 1990s/2000s. I stopped watching it for a long time, but I stopped watching any late night talk shows. The edge and the absurd skits were cut back on, or eliminated. Not sure of you saw it then, or only recently. Anyway, it’s all subjective.

    • Brittney B says:

      Do you watch Amy Schumer’s show? In the most recent episode, she played a version of Blake Lively on a Late Night-esque talk show sketch… and Bill Hader played a host who was obviously based on Letterman and Conan. If you hate the constant leering, I highly recommend it.

    • Robin says:

      Nope, you’re not the only one. Letterman used to be funny, but over the past several years he’s just been mean most of the time. His interviews with Medal of Honor winners are well-done, but other than that…and the clips he chose for the final show were mostly lame. The Taco Bell drive-through thing was a waste of time, as was the “day with David Letterman” segment. There was plenty of funny stuff over the decades; too bad they chose not to air more of it.

  14. anniefannie says:

    I was so scared he wouldn’t get the fan fare he deserved. This has been an epic week and a fitting end to a legend. Happy trails Dave!

  15. sills says:

    The fact that there will never be another clip of Amy Sedaris making Dave cry with laughter is a killer.

    “That’s a lovely dress, Amy.”

    “Looks better on the floor, Dave.”

    No other talk show host can bring out her hilarity like him. RIP Letterman Show.

    • claire says:

      hahahahaha. True! I suggest anyone who hasn’t seen the Amy Sedaris / David Letterman interviews to go on a youtube binge. It always has me rolling with laughter.

  16. JudyK says:

    Dave was an acquired taste for me, but I loved him…the best of the best and he will always be remembered for being so.

  17. OTHER RENEE says:

    It’s been at least 10 years since I’ve watched any late night talk show. Watching the clips I was shocked at how much he’s aged, speech slower, but we all age, that’s life. Enjoy retirement, Dave. You’ve earned it.

    • Meaghan says:

      I just said to my fiancée last night how weird it is that I haven’t noticed him aging, because its been a gradual thing over the years I’ve watched him that it was weird seeing clips of him young.

      • OTHER RENEE says:

        Meaghan, it’s like looking at old photos of yourself. Suddenly you see someone WAY younger than the person staring back at you in the mirror and you wonder how that happened.

  18. Sunny says:

    “why don’t you have any friends?” “I pushed him down the stairs.” “Did you learn a lesson?” “Accidents happen.”

  19. Jess says:

    Love him and I’m really sad he’s gone. He definitely went out well but my DVR cut off right before the final good bye and foo fighters so thanks for the links. By the way, loved Tina Fey’s and Chris Rock’s top ten lines!

  20. Mrs. Darcy says:

    Oh wow the Everlong montage got to me, like watching my life flash before my eyes, esp. the NBC days and early CBS days when I was watching the show regularly (I live abroad now so haven’t seen it regularly for a decade)- I remember I was a freshman in college when he moved to CBS and it felt like such an exciting time, like the little guy had won and got a big show. People forget that was such a big deal after his Tonight Show snub. I was re-watching old clips yesterday actually, I think he will be remembered as fondly as Carson in his own way. He was cantankerous and occasionally rude but he made it work for him. He wasn’t afraid to call people on their b.s., something that seems to have been smoothed out with most of the other late night talk show hosts. I did miss some of the wacky zaniness that slowly got edged out over the years, it lost some of it’s unique-ness to me without the man on the street bits and his Mom and Larry Bud Melman. Was really touching to see his family, too, his son is like a mini-Dave, so cute. An end of an era, sniff.

    • sills says:

      We must be close in age, I was also in college then and Dave was “must-see TV,” I remember everyone crowded around the TV in the dorm lounge to catch him.

      I’m not a weepy person but I did tear up a little at the final montage w/ Foo Fighters. You just realize that on this miserable rock we’re all stuck on, the best gift you can give someone is laughter, and Dave’s done it so unflaggingly and joyfully for all these years. I will miss him.

      • Liberty says:

        Sills, I love what you wrote the this rock we’re on. What a perfect way to put it.

  21. Moi says:

    I saw the Foo Fighters last Friday! So amazing. Sorry to see Dave go…

  22. Newyorking says:

    Everyday I walk by this building, every evening at 5pm returning with my twins from their daycare. And I go through this HUGE throng of people. They block the way and don’t let us pass, ugh. The people and paparazzi crowd everywhere. Where am I to go? Why can’t I pass with my stroller? Why do they block the street, like they own it? So unfair. So I have to go all the way around with the double stroller, as if I don’t already have enough on my plate now I have to deal with crazy people milling around to see celebs.

    • belle de jour says:

      I hear the stroller derbies in Park Slope are lovely this time of year.

  23. Debutante says:

    So sad Dave is gone. End of an era. I always had such a crush on him..lol. loved his sense of humor and loved last night’s show.
    Have a great retirement Dave. Look me up if things go awry with the wife !

  24. Jayna says:

    I couldn’t stop laughing at the video clips of him at the drive-through window for fastfood. It was absolutely hysterical.

    I’ve always loved Dave, even cantankerous Dave. He was my favorite talk show host. I thought he lost his edge several years back when he went too scripted with his interviews, relying on too heavily the pre-interviews and thus question lines and not veering off of them when the interview wasn’t working. But when he was on he was on and you could still see that wit and spark and edge that made him succeed over the span of his career. His love for his son was so evident over the years and his emotion after his heart surgery was so touching.