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The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson - Season 17


David Letterman's Celebrated Broadcrast Career

Veteran talk-show host David Letterman, who will retire from his "Late Show" in 2015, leaves behind a vaunted legacy of comedy from his decades of television.

 / Updated 17 PHOTOS

Whither the weather?

David Letterman began his television career in 1970 in his home town of Indianapolis as an anchor and weatherman on television station WLWI, now called WTHR. He received attention for his often unpredictable on-air behavior.

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You might just make it after all

Letterman's 1978 headshot for Mary Tyler Moore's variety show, "Mary." The show lasted only 3 episodes.

Cbs Photo Archive / CBS
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The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson - Season 17

Herrrrrre's Dave!

Letterman guest hosted "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" on July 4, 1979. He became a favorite fill-in for Carson after making his first appearances as a guest in 1978.

Nbc / NBCUniversal
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The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Double the comedy

Comedian Jay Leno chats with Letterman while he was guest hosting for Carson on July 4, 1979. The two became friends, then rivals, when Leno, not Letterman, replaced Carson in 1992.

Nbc / NBCUniversal
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David Letterman at reception in NBC's Studio 6A January 19, 1982 at the announcement of new NBC comedy show "Late Night With David Letterman". (AP Photo/Perez)

Up late

David Letterman in NBC's Studio 6A on Jan. 19, 1982 after he made the announcement of his new NBC comedy show, "Late Night With David Letterman."

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David Letterman at the taping of his first talk-comedy hour "Late Night with David Letterman" with guest Bill Murray, February 1, 1982 in New York. (AP Photo/Nancy Kaye)

Honored guest

Letterman speaks with his first interview guest on "Late Night," actor and comedian Bill Murray, during the show's first taping on Feb. 1, 1982 in New York.

Nancy Kaye / AP
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Comedian  David Letterman holds his award at the 37th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony in Pasadena, Ca., Sunday, Sept. 22, 1985. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Golden night

Letterman holds his Emmy award at the 37th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony in Pasadena, Calif, in 1985. Letterman's shows have garnered both critical and industry praise, receiving 67 Emmy Award nominations and winning 12 times.

Nick Ut / AP
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David Letterman

Casual day

David Letterman in his office at NBC on Jan. 28, 1986 after taping his show.

Mario Suriani / David Letterman
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Superstar singer and now stage actress Madonna joined host David Letterman and comedian Sandra Bernhard for the taping of ?Late Night with David Letterman? in NBC Studios on Friday, July 1, 1988 in New York. Madonna?s first appearance on the show was a surprise addition to the celebration of the series? 1,000th taping. (AP Photo/NBC)

Material Girl

Madonna made her first appearance on "Late Night" with comedian Sandra Bernhard in 1988. Her first appearance on the show was a surprise addition to the celebration of the series’ 1,000th taping.

Anonymous / NBC
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Talk show host David Letterman, left, gestures while talking with Johnny Carson during taping of the ?Tonight Show? at the NBC Studio in Burbank, California on August 30, 1991. Letterman?s presence on the ?Tonight Show? was his first appearance since Carson announced his retirement next year. Letterman and Jay Leno, who is Carson?s regular guest host and was named as his replacement, were in contention for the job. (AP Photo)

Back with Johnny

Letterman makes an appearance on "The Tonight Show" after Johnny Carson announced his retirement from the coveted late-night spot on Aug. 30, 1991.

Bob Galbraith / AP
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Ticket holders wait in line to enter the Ed Sullivan Theatre to watch the first episode of the "Late Show with David Letterman" to air since Letterman's production company struck a deal to allow writers to come back to work, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2008, in New York.  (AP Photo/Peter Kramer)

New York state of mind

The Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City became Letterman’s new home on Aug. 30, 1993 when he departed NBC and started "Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS.

Peter Kramer / KRAPE
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Oprah Winfrey returns to chat with David Letterman, 16 years after her previous visit on The Late Show with David Letterman, December 1, 2005 on the CBS Television Network. Following the interview, Dave escorted Oprah across 53rd street to the opening of her new Broadway Show "The Color Purple".  Photo: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS  ©2005 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved

O what a star

Oprah Winfrey returned to chat with Letterman, 16 years after her previous visit, on Dec. 1, 2005. Following the interview, Letterman escorted Winfrey across 53rd street to the opening of her new Broadway show "The Color Purple."

Jeffrey R Staab / CBS Entertainment
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Behind the beard

Actor Joaquin Phoenix made a now infamous appearance on "Late Night" on Feb. 11, 2009 during an awkward chat announcing his retirement from acting and the beginning of his rap career. "What can you tell us about your days with the Unabomber?" Letterman teased the bizarrely bearded actor.

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Stupid pet tricks with Late Show host David Letterman on the Late Show with David Letterman, Thursday Feb. 24, 2011 on the CBS Television Network. 
Photo: Heather Wines/CBS ©2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Gone to the dogs

Letterman laughs during another edition of Stupid Pet Tricks on Feb. 24, 2011. It was one of many popular segments his show made famous.

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Barack Obama, Dustin Hoffman, David Letterman, Natalia Makarova

With the president

President Barack Obama watches as Letterman, a 2012 Kennedy Center Honors recipient, kisses the hand of Russian prima ballerina Natalia Makarova during a reception hosted by Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for the honorees in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Dec. 2, 2012. On the right is actor Dustin Hoffman.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP
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Star-studded selfie

Nearly 32 years after his appearance as Letterman’s first interview on "Late Night," Bill Murray makes a surprise appearance alongside Lady Gaga on April 2, 2014, a day before Letterman announced his retirement.

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Image: David Letterman

Signing off soon

Letterman, the longest-serving late-night talk show host in TV history, announced on April 3 during the taping of "Late Show" that he will retire from the CBS program next year when his contract expires.

Jeffrey R. Staab / CBS
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