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A Farewell to David Letterman

Updated on May 23, 2020

Letterman Announces His Retirement

A young David Letterman.
A young David Letterman.

David Letterman enters our lives.

It, as noted athletes and celebrities say, was a good run. Good? How about fantastic? Throw in all of the superlatives and you've described David Letterman's 33-year run on NBC and CBS with The Late Show with him at the wheel. (P)

David Michael Letterman, now-retired legendary-host of CBS' Late Night with David Letterman was born April 12, 1947, in Indianapolis, Indiana, in the quiet neighborhood of Broad Ripple, to be exact. (P)

Early on, Letterman's childhood was mostly unremarkable, but images of him being the class clown began to surface along with a strong independent streak. Letterman went on to graduate from Ball State University in the late 1960s and married Michelle Cook in 1969.

David retired May 20, 2015, from "Late Night with David Letterman."
David retired May 20, 2015, from "Late Night with David Letterman."
Letterman at a serious moment.
Letterman at a serious moment.
David always loved to embrace his audiences with jokes.
David always loved to embrace his audiences with jokes.
Dorothy Mengering, Dave's mom, appeared on many of his shows.
Dorothy Mengering, Dave's mom, appeared on many of his shows.

Letterman's career boosted by Johnny Carson.

From 1970 to 1974, he worked as a weatherman and television announcer. From 1974 to 1975 as a radio talk show host. As the late 1970s approached, Letterman was working as a struggling stand-up comic at The Comedy Store and started writing for television shows including a CBS hit, "Good Times" (1974). (P)

David's career was instantly-boosted with several appearances on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson (1962). He became so popular that he was the permanent substitute host by the end of the 1970s. NBC saw great potential in the young irreverent comedian, so they gave Letterman his own daytime talk show, "The David Letterman Show" (1980), which was a disaster and aired for only for a short time. At about this time, "Tom Snyder" was having problems with his late-night show, "Tomorrow Coast to Coast" (1973), which aired after the "Tonight Show." His problems were mostly with his co-host, noted Hollywood columnist, "Rona Barrett," and Snyder was forced off air in late 1981. (P)

Letterman, who was still permanent co-host of the "Tonight Show," took over the post-Carson slot with the title, "Late Night with David Letterman" (1982). Letterman's show was extremely unconventional. For starters, Letterman was very political, whereas "Johnny Carson, King of Late Night," had steered away from political jokes. (P)

Letterman's early antics changed talk shows. He would often stage elevator races in Radio City Music Hall. And making random calls to strangers to talk about the strangest subjects. At Letterman's side was his loyal associate, Larry "Bud" Mellman, who was David's "guinea pig" for new and twisted comedy ideas for his audiences.

David Letterman was always good for a laugh with his staff or at home.
David Letterman was always good for a laugh with his staff or at home.
David enjoys talking with his mom as they are very close from his youth.
David enjoys talking with his mom as they are very close from his youth.
When David had a point to make, guests had to just step-back and let him make his point.
When David had a point to make, guests had to just step-back and let him make his point.

Letterman: Always in charge.

As the late 1980s approached, Letterman was becoming more and more of a household name, often at odds with the censors over his show, and never one to kowtow to guests' wishes. But that only made him more popular, and he garnered more and more status as a world class talk show host. Among the more classic moments in his early show was the time he covered his suit with Alka Seltzer and jumped in a vat of water. (P)

One of David's best-known segments was sending a stagehand, "Pat," on some building with a high roof and telling him to throw items such as watermelons, dozens of eggs, even a stuffed Teddy bear to the sidewalk below to just see what the collision would look like.(P)

I never claimed to be a professional entertainment critic, but in August, 1988, thanks to a great pal, Chris Cook, now-assistant Superintendent of Education, Marion County, (where I live), I became a David Letterman fan. It was not just a "fly-by" liking, but I felt at that time I would appreciate Letterman for years to come. I was right.(P)

I did not agree with all of Letterman's statements and views, but that can apply to my personal-favorite, the late Johnny Carson, whom I believe came to this world interviewing guests. Carson was that good. Letterman in the early years of his talk shows, looked weary at times when he would get confused at something one of his researcher's had given him to discuss with a guest. Letterman had the gift of hiding his confusion and moving-ahead with the show.

Dave being interviwed by "The King of Late Night," Johnny Carson.
Dave being interviwed by "The King of Late Night," Johnny Carson.

So long, David.

One thing about David Letterman that I will always admire: He did not fear network exec's, sponsors' threats to pull their ads if he did a certain thing on the air or the general public. David was David all of the time--at home and on the air. Letterman was a rare celebrity in many ways and not fearing those who might hurt his career was the one trait I loved the most.(P)

As I watched the final "Late Night with David Letterman," Wednesday night, May 20, it dawned on me that as Letterman made his famous "jog" across the stage and then slowly walked out to greet his audience, that David Letterman did not "work" at being funny or successful. He was both of these already thanks to his early-experience as an Indiana weatherman and that disaster-of-a morning talk show. Letterman let both is bad and good experiences teach him as he went along.(P)

And now, he is gone. Sadly, he is gone.(P)

Personally, I would not like to be Stephen Colbert, who takes over the "Late Show" in September. I am now wondering if Letterman has, without realizing it, cast a shadow far too wide and long to outgrow.

In honor of David Letterman's retirement from doing over 6000 shows, a combined total of shows he and his musical director, Paul Shaffer, did on NBC and now CBS, I wanted to publish my own(P)

Top Ten List of Things David Letterman Did on May 21(P)

10.) Meet two people he has not seen that much: His wife and son.
9.) Walk around his yard and dwell on one question: "Was this retirement a huge mistake?"
8.) Take as many naps as he wants.
7.) Talk to his mom and share what it was like to sign-off "Late Night" for the last time.
6.) Talk with Paul Shaffer about the good times.
5.) Sit and wonder if Bill Murray has a prank planned for the first week of his retirement.
4.) Out of habit, rise from bed at 5 a.m. to get to the Ed Sullivan Theater.
3.) Answer his phone and talk to the many show business agents who want to represent him in another show.
2.) Do his "Late Night" routine in the den--running across stage, then do his monologue for his wife and son.
1.) Wonder what life would be like to host a reality show on ABC.

David, I would wish you the best in your retirement, but I do not believe in formalities.


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    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      6 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Attention Everyone Who Left a Comment on THIS Hub:

      "Thank you all, good friends, for your nice comments. I just want to say to you all . . . I Appreciate MY FOLLOWERS so much and I wish you ALL a Safe and Happy Fourth of July."

      "Hope to see you soon."

      "I am now dividing my time between Hubs and building birdhouses (yes, hubbers can buy them--$25 for small ones and $35 for big models--so my hub production will be cut drastically, and how ironic MY comment is being put on Letterman's farewell. This is NOT MY farewell, but a notice of depression that I won't see you good folks as much as I'd like to, but I, or anyone else simply cannot turn out 50 hubs a week and meet HP's pay-out. I am human." "And humans get tired. Like I am now." "But you, all of my cherished-followers know this: I LOVE AND ADORE ALL OF YOU."

    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      6 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, vocalcoach,

      Thank you for your great comment. I love and appreciate you for doing this.

      Yes, the show was well-done, but "I" was more-sad and depressed at David's leaving than he was.

      I predict that in some capacity, he will turn-up somewhere for a talent like this cannot sit still for just so long.

      Stay in touch with me.

    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      6 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      Hey, friend. Where have you been for so long? I am overjoyed to hear from you.

      I agree with you that David was a great host. And if Stephen Colbert doesn't suit me, as you watch your movie, I can simply go to bed and rest.

      Take care and you have a safe 4th.

    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      6 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      I am like you in wishing David a long, happy retirement. But, and I do hope this doesn't happen to him, but soon, he will realize that there is just so many crossword puzzles to do; just so many old friends to reconnect with and so on and then he might start wanting to do another show on, dare I say it? for ABC. It is possible.

      He has a lot of good years left.

      And as for Colbert, and this isn't a bash, I hope he doesn't change everything, but then again, I can always go to bed.

    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      6 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      The white socks and shoes? Yes, I wondered that for a long time and David, after running across the stage, heading to his right and briefly leaning against the wall. He never explained that. These things did make me wonder.

      Thanks, dear friend, for the nice comment and special friendship.

    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      6 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      Thank you for the nice comment. God bless you for your sweet spirit.

      Do visit me often and no telling what you will read.

    • kenneth avery profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenneth Avery 

      6 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      Craig Ferguson was an okay host. He had the sharpness of humor thanks to great writers, but Letterman, who worked very hard, was only "good as" Johnny Carson. Not better.

      And I guess after 33 years basically doing the same thing would get tiring and the missing of one's wife and son is something each person with a job like Letterman should view carefully. Even an employee who sells shoes and puts in overtime can be subject to being over-driven to keep themselves on top of their game.

      I did this in 23 years of newspaper work. Many is the time I went to work at 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday and did not see home until Wednesday around 2:30 a.m. I thought I had to keep going and keep producing.

      You see what I mean? There comes a time to just kiss your job and those you serve, farewell.

      Thanks for your great comment, my friend. Stay in touch.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      6 years ago from Oakley, CA

      We watched the final episode, but we have been only sporadic watchers of his show. IMO, no one has come close to replacing the late-night comedy that was Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon.

      Craig Ferguson was good, but he, too, has retired from his show, and moved on to a game show of some kind. I guess the Universe is telling me to get to bed earlier. ;-)

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Cygnet Brown 

      6 years ago from Springfield, Missouri

      Yes, it is sad to see him go. Great job on the research for this one!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Kenneth, I'm watching this on Saturday afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed it. The videos are awesome!

      I haven't seen too many of Letterman's shows because he comes on way past my bedtime, which is another reason I enjoyed this so much.

      I had no idea he was a writer on "Good Time". I used to love that show.

      I see Letterman still wears white socks with black shoes. What's up with that? Ha ha.

      Thanx for the entertaining hub, Kenneth. I really enjoyed this.

    • RoadMonkey profile image


      6 years ago

      Even I have heard of him! I hope he has a long and happy retirement. As you say, a hard act to follow.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      6 years ago from Florida

      Great farewell to a great host, but there will never be another Johnny Carson in my book!

      Now I find myself watching a movie late at night.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Thank you Kenneth for this excellent tribute to Letterman. I thought his final show was well done. He will be missed. I'm curious to see how Stephen Colbert fairs in September. Voted up+++ and sharing.

    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      6 years ago

      Hi, Patty,

      Nice to hear from you. I appreciate your comment. And you and lions44 must be fans of Letterman.

      Dave held his emotions in check a lot better than Johnny Carson did on his last show.

      I watched Carson's finale with a friend and in the last five minutes, he teared-up and his voice was quivering as he said his last words to his fans. When he passed away, that broke my heart.

    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      6 years ago

      Hi, Patty,

      I loved your comment. You and lions44 must be fans of Letterman. Of the two, David and Johnny (Carson), Dave held up a lot better with his emotions than Carson.

      A buddy and I watched the last Carson show and in the final five minutes, it was all Johnny could do just to talk.

      CBS does not know how much David did for them.

    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      6 years ago


      Thank you so much for the neat comment. I agree with you on the NBC outing being a bit better than the CBS gig.

      But all being said, David WILL be missed on the "late night circuit."

      I wish Stephen Colbert my best.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      6 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      I also enjoyed the NBC Days a lot. The finale on 5/20/15 was a good mix of clips from shows and fun activities like the final Top 10 List. It would have been fantastic to hear the band do a whole number, though; but, We were able to see Rupert G and Dave's wife and son. I hope he does some specials or takes Biff Henderson to the 2016 Olympics to cover the Games. That would be a hoot!

      Thanks for this awesome Hub!

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      6 years ago from the PNW

      I was always more a fan of Late Night than The Late Show. His NBC show was so innovative. There was nothing on TV like that at the time. But then he had to tone it down for the 11:30 slot and I thought he tried to be Johnny Carson with a modern twist. Great at both shows, but nothing can touch his NBC days. Voted up and shared.


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