David Letterman was ushered into retirement Wednesday by four presidents declaring "our long national nightmare is over" and a succession of stars delivering a final Top Ten list of things they always wanted to say to the late-night host.
The taped intro of President Barack Obama and former Presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush referenced President Gerald Ford's declaration to the country when he took office following the 1974 resignation of Richard Nixon.
Letterman sidled up to Obama to say, "you're just kidding, right?"
Ten stars from Steve Martin to Tina Fey delivered the final Top Ten list of "things I've always wanted to say to Dave." Julia Louis-Dreyfus, with Jerry Seinfeld standing nearby, said, "Thanks for letting me take part in another hugely disappointing series finale."
Number One was Bill Murray: "Dave, I'll never have the money I owe you."
Letterman said goodbye after 33 years and 6,028 broadcasts of his late-night shows on CBS and NBC.
The final "Late Show" broadcast ran long, some 17 minutes over its usual hour, and CBS planned to let the show air without cutting it.
The transplanted Hoosier, who made Top Ten lists and ironic humor staples of television comedy and influenced a generation of performers, will be replaced by Stephen Colbert in September.
Letterman joked in his monologue that he's been on the air for so long that the hot show when he started was "Keeping Up with the Gabors." He said that Stephen Hawking figured out that the 6,028 broadcasts included "about eight minutes of laughter."
"You want to know what I'm going to do now that I'm retired?" he said. "By God, I hope to become the new face of Scientology."
Letterman, whose wife Regina and son Harry were in the audience, was serenaded at the end by the band Foo Fighters. They sang, "Everlong," the same song they played when he returned following heart surgery in February 2000.
Several audience members who filed out of the theater after the show had tears in their eyes.
"It was really incredible," said Will Landman of Long Island, New York. "It was the best way he could go out." Letterman "was guarded but you could tell it was really hard for him," said John Bernstein, who flew in from Los Angeles to see the finale. "You could see his emotion," he said.
"But I think he's feeling a lot more than he's showing."
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