For over thirty years, David Letterman was a late night staple and hero for generations of college kids, insomniacs and comedy fans, first with his ground-breaking and seminal Light Night with David Letterman, and ending with the Late Show with David Letterman. The second show gave him an earlier time-slot and enlarged his fan base after a bitter talk show war over who would host NBC’s the Tonight Show. Letterman came away with a brand new show on the CBS network, hosted in the famed Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway in the heart of the Manhattan theater district, and created new time slots and opportunities for more late night hosts to join the airwaves.
With his quirky nightly bits from “Will it Float?” and “Know Your Cuts of Meat” and his iconic top ten lists, Letterman was also a seasoned and acerbic interviewer, not afraid to give his celebrity guests a hard time. He could also show great compassionate and vulnerability. On his first show back after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Letterman delivered a historic and emotional monologue. His healing words were called, “one of the purest, most honest and important moments in TV history.”
Letterman wasn’t perfect or free from scandal. His reputation was rocked when a former staff member whom he had an affair with attempted extortion. Letterman didn’t give in to the blackmail. Instead he came clean to the public, his audience, and his wife on a segment of the Late Show.
Famed for being a perfectionist and a relentless critic of himself and his show, he found peace and mellowed in later years. After decades of anxiety and alcoholism, Letterman found healing in therapy and transcendental meditation.
Last May his talk show came to an emotional close, thirty years of memories played as his favorite band the Foo Fighters played his favorite song, Everlong. Many wondered what the future held for the gap-toothed host. Would he retire entirely from public life?
Trying to put things in perspective, and approaching life in retirement, Letterman had some surprising insight and words to share with the New York Times, David Itzoff. He said of his show, “I don’t miss late-night television. And I’m a little embarrassed that, for 33 years, it was the laser focus of my life.”
One of the most famous things about Letterman post-retirement is his snow white Santa Claus beard he’s been rocking in paparazzi jogging shots, and occasional public events like the PBS special Bill Murray: The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize. Letterman gave a touching speech in tribute to Murray a long time guest on both his shows, and shared a touching story of how Bill Murray sent a gift of a Christening gown for his son’s baptism.
Letterman’s young son Harry born in 2003, is the inspiration for a turning point in his life. Letterman found an outlet for important things he can do with his hard won platform of celebrity.
Recently Letterman traveled to India as part of the National Geographic Channel series Years of Living Dangerously. An interest in climate change drew him to the project. Letterman says, “… a few years ago someone uttered what has become the cliché in regard to climate change, and that is: What will we tell our children when they say, “Why didn’t you do anything about this?” I bought that—hook, line, and sinker. That’s the headline for me to start paying attention and start, in small ways, to do something. People are being displaced. People’s ways of life are changing. The questions of adaptability are enormous.
David Letterman is using his voice to do what he can to help our planet and spread awareness. It’s never too late to guide your energy and find a passion that you believe in, and find a positive way to make a difference.
Author: Tara Collum
Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the co-creator of a forthcoming web serial about twins in a small town. She believes it is never too late to be the person you are meant to be. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun