Harry Joseph Letterman
David Michael Letterman
Merrill Markoe (1978–1988)
Regina Lasko (m. 2009), Michelle Cook (m. 1969–1977)
Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with David Letterman, The Late Show with Stephen, Late Night, The Late Late Show with Tom
Top 10 most memorable david letterman moments
David Michael Letterman (born April 12, 1947) is an American television host, comedian, writer, and producer. He hosted a late night television talk show for 33 years, beginning with the February 1, 1982 debut of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC, and ending with the May 20, 2015 broadcast of Late Show with David Letterman on CBS. In total, Letterman hosted 6,028 episodes of Late Night and Late Show, surpassing friend and mentor Johnny Carson as the longest-serving late night talk show host in American television history. In 1996 Letterman was ranked 45th on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.
- Top 10 most memorable david letterman moments
- David Letterman Hosts the Oscars in 1995
- Early life and career
- Move to Los Angeles
- Morning show
- Late Night with David Letterman
- Late Show with David Letterman
- Hosting the Academy Awards
- Heart surgery hiatus
- Re signing with CBS
- Retirement from Late Show
- Post Late Show
- NBC and Johnny Carson
- Oprah Winfrey
- 20072008 writers strike
- Palin joke
- Al Qaeda death threat
- Appearances in other media
- Worldwide Pants
- Record company
- Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
- Charitable foundation
- Personal life
- Marriages relationships and family
- Journalism heritage
- Extramarital affairs and blackmail attempt
- David Letterman Communication and Media Building
- Awards and nominations
Letterman is also a television and film producer. His company, Worldwide Pants, produced his show as well as The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and several prime-time comedies, the most successful of which was Everybody Loves Raymond, now in syndication.
Several late-night hosts have cited Letterman's influence, including Conan O'Brien (his successor on Late Night), Stephen Colbert (his successor on The Late Show), Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers.
David Letterman Hosts the Oscars® in 1995
Early life and career
Letterman was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. His father, Harry Joseph Letterman (April 15, 1915 – February 13, 1973), was a florist. His mother, Dorothy Marie Mengering (née Hofert; July 18, 1921 – April 11, 2017), a church secretary, was an occasional figure on Letterman's show, usually at holidays and birthdays.
He lived on the north side of Indianapolis (Broad Ripple area), not far from Speedway, Indiana, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; and he enjoyed collecting model cars, including racers. In 2000, he told an interviewer for Esquire that, while growing up, he admired his father's ability to tell jokes and be the life of the party. Harry Joseph Letterman survived a heart attack at age 36, when David was a young boy. The fear of losing his father was constantly with Letterman as he grew up. The elder Letterman died of a second heart attack at age 57.
Letterman attended his hometown's Broad Ripple High School at the same time as Marilyn Tucker (future wife of Dan Quayle) and worked as a stock boy at the local Atlas Supermarket. According to the Ball State Daily News, he originally had wanted to attend Indiana University, but his grades were not good enough, so he instead attended Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana. He is a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, and he graduated in 1969 from what was then the Department of Radio and Television. A self-described average student, Letterman later endowed a scholarship for what he called "C students" at Ball State.
Letterman began his broadcasting career as an announcer and newscaster at the college's student-run radio station—WBST—a 10-watt campus station which now is part of Indiana Public Radio. He was fired for treating classical music with irreverence. He then became involved with the founding of another campus station—WAGO-AM 570 (now WWHI, 91.3).
I was just out of college [in 1969], and I really didn't know what I wanted to do. And then all of a sudden I saw him doing it [on TV]. And I thought: That's really what I want to do!
Letterman began his career as a radio talk show host on WNTS (AM) and on Indianapolis television station WLWI (which changed its call sign to WTHR in 1976) as an anchor, and weatherman. He received some attention for his unpredictable on-air behavior, which included congratulating a tropical storm for being upgraded to a hurricane and predicting hail stones "the size of canned hams." He would also occasionally report the weather and the day's very high and low temps for fictitious cities ("Eight inches of snow in Bingree and surrounding areas") while on another occasion saying that a state border had been erased when a satellite map accidentally omitted the state border between Indiana and Ohio, attributing it to dirty political dealings. ("The higher-ups have removed the border between Indiana and Ohio making it one giant state. Personally, I'm against it. I don't know what to do about it.") He also starred in a local kiddie show, made wisecracks as host of a late night TV show called "Freeze-Dried Movies" (he once acted out a scene from Godzilla using plastic dinosaurs), and hosted a talk show that aired early on Saturday mornings called Clover Power, in which he interviewed 4-H members about their projects.
In 1971 Letterman appeared as a pit road reporter for ABC Sports' tape-delayed coverage of the Indianapolis 500. Letterman was initially introduced as Chris Economaki, although this was corrected at the end of the interview. Letterman interviewed Mario Andretti, who had just crashed out of the race.
Move to Los Angeles
In 1975, encouraged by his then-wife Michelle and several of his Sigma Chi fraternity brothers, Letterman moved to Los Angeles, California, with hope of becoming a comedy writer. He and Michelle packed their belongings in his pickup truck and headed west. As of 2012, he still owned the truck. In Los Angeles, he began performing comedy at The Comedy Store. Jimmie Walker saw him on stage; with an endorsement from George Miller, Letterman joined a group of comedians whom Walker hired to write jokes for his stand-up act, a group that at various times would also include Jay Leno, Paul Mooney, Robert Schimmel, Richard Jeni, Louie Anderson, Elayne Boosler, Byron Allen, Jack Handey, and Steve Oedekerk.
By the summer of 1977, Letterman was a writer and regular on the six-week summer series The Starland Vocal Band Show, broadcast on CBS. He hosted a 1977 pilot for a game show entitled The Riddlers (that was never picked up), and co-starred in the Barry Levinson-produced comedy special Peeping Times that aired in January 1978. Later that year, Letterman was a cast member on Mary Tyler Moore's variety show, Mary. Letterman made a guest appearance on Mork & Mindy (as a parody of EST leader Werner Erhard) and appearances on game shows such as The $20,000 Pyramid, The Gong Show, Hollywood Squares, Password Plus and Liar's Club, as well as the Canadian cooking show Celebrity Cooks (November 1977), talk shows such as 90 Minutes Live (February 24 and April 14, 1978), and The Mike Douglas Show (April 3, 1979 and February 7, 1980). He was also screen tested for the lead role in the 1980 film Airplane!, a role that eventually went to Robert Hays.
His dry, sarcastic humor caught the attention of scouts for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and Letterman was soon a regular guest on the show. Letterman became a favorite of Carson and was a regular guest host for the show beginning in 1978. Letterman credits Carson as the person who influenced his career the most.
On June 23, 1980, Letterman was given his own morning comedy show on NBC, The David Letterman Show. It was originally 90 minutes long, but was shortened to 60 minutes in August 1980. The show was a critical success, winning two Emmy Awards, but was a ratings disappointment and was canceled in October 1980.
Late Night with David Letterman
NBC kept Letterman under contract to try him in a different time slot. Late Night with David Letterman debuted February 1, 1982; the first guest on the first show was Bill Murray. Murray later went on to become one of Letterman's most recurrent guests, guesting on the show's 30th anniversary episode, which aired January 31, 2012 and on the very last show, which aired May 20, 2015. The show ran Monday through Thursday at 12:30 a.m. Eastern Time, immediately following The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (a Friday night broadcast was added in June 1987). It was seen as being edgy and unpredictable, and soon developed a cult following (particularly among college students). Letterman's reputation as an acerbic interviewer was borne out in verbal sparring matches with Cher (who even called him an asshole on the show), Shirley MacLaine, Charles Grodin, and Madonna. The show also featured comedy segments and running characters, in a style heavily influenced by the 1950s and 1960s programs of Steve Allen.
The show often featured quirky, genre-mocking regular features, including "Stupid Pet Tricks" (which had its origins on Letterman's morning show), Stupid Human Tricks, dropping various objects off the roof of a five-story building, demonstrations of unorthodox clothing (such as suits made of Alka-Seltzer, Velcro and suet), a recurring Top 10 list, the Monkey-Cam (and the Audience Cam), a facetious letter-answering segment, several "Film[s] by My Dog Bob" in which a camera was mounted on Letterman's own dog (often with comic results) and Small Town News, all of which would eventually move with Letterman to CBS.
Other memorable moments included Letterman using a bullhorn to interrupt a live interview on The Today Show, announcing that he was the NBC News president and that he was not wearing any pants; walking across the hall to Studio 6B, at the time the news studio for WNBC-TV, and interrupting Al Roker's weather segments during Live at Five; and staging "elevator races", complete with commentary by NBC Sports' Bob Costas. In one infamous appearance, in 1982, Andy Kaufman (who was already wearing a neck brace) appeared with professional wrestler Jerry Lawler, who slapped and knocked the comedian to the ground (though Lawler and Kaufman's friend Bob Zmuda later revealed that the event was staged).
Late Show with David Letterman
In 1992, Johnny Carson retired, and many fans believed that Letterman would become host of The Tonight Show. When NBC instead gave the job to Jay Leno, Letterman departed NBC to host his own late-night show on CBS, opposite The Tonight Show at 11:30 p.m., called the Late Show with David Letterman. The new show debuted on August 30, 1993, and was taped at the historic Ed Sullivan Theater, where ED Sullivan broadcast his eponymous variety series from 1948 to 1971. For Letterman's arrival, CBS spent US$8 million in renovations. In addition to that cost, CBS also signed Letterman to a lucrative three-year, US$14 million/year contract, doubling his Late Night salary. The total cost for everything (renovations, negotiation right paid to NBC, signing Letterman, announcer Bill Wendell, Shaffer, the writers and the band) was over US$140 million.
But while the expectation was that Letterman would retain his unique style and sense of humor with the move, Late Show was not an exact replica of his old NBC program. Recognizing the more formal mood (and wider audience) of his new time slot and studio, Letterman eschewed his trademark blazer with khaki pants and white wrestling shoes wardrobe combination in favor of expensive shoes, tailored suits and light-colored socks. The monologue was lengthened. Paul Shaffer and the "World's Most Dangerous Band" followed Letterman to CBS, but they added a brass section and were rebranded the "CBS Orchestra" as a short monologue and a small band were mandated by Carson while Letterman occupied the 12:30 slot. Additionally, because of intellectual property disagreements, Letterman was unable to import many of his Late Night segments verbatim, but he sidestepped this problem by simply renaming them (the "Top Ten List" became the "Late Show Top Ten", "Viewer Mail" became the "CBS Mailbag", etc.) Time magazine stated that "Letterman's innovation ... gained power from its rigorous formalism", as his biographer Jason Zinoman puts it, he was "a fascinatingly disgruntled eccentric trapped inside a more traditional talk show."
The main competitor of the Late Show was NBC's The Tonight Show, which was hosted by Jay Leno for 22 years, but from June 1, 2009, to January 22, 2010, was hosted by Conan O'Brien. In 1993 and 1994, the Late Show consistently gained higher ratings than The Tonight Show. But in 1995, ratings dipped and Leno's show consistently beat Letterman's in the ratings from the time that Hugh Grant came on Leno's show after Grant's arrest for soliciting a prostitute; Leno typically attracted about five million nightly viewers between 1999 and 2009. The Late Show lost nearly half its audience during its competition with Leno, attracting 7.1 million viewers nightly in its 1993–94 season and about 3.8 million per night as of Leno's departure in 2009. In the final months of his first stint as host of The Tonight Show, Leno beat Letterman in the ratings by a 1.3 million viewer margin (5.2 million to 3.9 million), and Nightline and the Late Show were virtually tied. Once O'Brien took over Tonight, however, Letterman closed the gap in the ratings. O'Brien initially drove the median age of Tonight Show viewers from 55 to 45, with most older viewers opting to watch the Late Show instead.
Following Leno's return to The Tonight Show, however, Leno regained his lead.
Letterman's shows have garnered both critical and industry praise, receiving 67 Emmy Award nominations, winning 12 times in his first 20 years in late night television. From 1993 to 2009, Letterman ranked higher than Leno in the annual Harris Poll of Nation's Favorite TV Personality 12 times. For example, in 2003 and 2004 Letterman ranked second in that poll, behind only Oprah Winfrey, a year that Leno was ranked fifth. Leno was higher than Letterman on that poll three times during the same period, in 1998, 2007, and 2008.
Hosting the Academy Awards
On March 27, 1995, Letterman acted as the host for the 67th Academy Awards ceremony. Critics blasted Letterman for what they deemed a poor hosting of the Oscars, noting that his irreverent style undermined the traditional importance and glamor of the event. In a joke about their unusual names (inspired by a celebrated comic essay in The New Yorker, "Yma Dream" by Thomas Meehan), he started off by introducing Uma Thurman to Oprah Winfrey, and then both of them to Keanu Reeves: "Oprah...Uma. Uma...Oprah," "Have you kids met Keanu?" This and many of his other jokes fell flat. Although Letterman attracted the highest ratings to the annual telecast since 1983, many felt that the bad publicity garnered by Letterman's hosting caused a decline in the Late Show's ratings.
Letterman recycled the apparent debacle into a long-running gag. On his first show after the Oscars, he joked, "Looking back, I had no idea that thing was being televised." He lampooned his stint two years later, during Billy Crystal's opening Oscar skit, which also parodied the plane-crashing scenes from that year's chief nominated film, The English Patient.
For years afterward, Letterman recounted his hosting the Oscars, although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences continued to hold Letterman in high regard and they had invited him to host the Oscars again. On September 7, 2010, he made an appearance on the premiere of the 14th season of The View, and confirmed that he had been considered for hosting again.
Heart surgery hiatus
On January 14, 2000, a routine check-up revealed that an artery in Letterman's heart was severely obstructed. He was rushed to emergency surgery for a quintuple bypass.
During the initial weeks of his recovery, reruns of the Late Show were shown and introduced by friends of Letterman including Drew Barrymore, Ray Romano, Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Megan Mullally, Bill Murray, Regis Philbin, Charles Grodin, Nathan Lane, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Jerry Seinfeld, Martin Short, Steven Seagal, Hillary Clinton, Danny DeVito, Steve Martin, and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Subsequently, while still recovering from surgery, Letterman revived the late night tradition that had virtually disappeared on network television during the 1990s of 'guest hosts' by allowing Bill Cosby, Kathie Lee Gifford, Dana Carvey, Janeane Garofalo, and others to host new episodes of the Late Show.
Upon his return to the show on February 21, 2000, Letterman brought all but one of the doctors and nurses on stage who had participated in his surgery and recovery (with extra teasing of a nurse who had given him bed baths—"This woman has seen me naked!"), including Dr. O. Wayne Isom and physician Louis Aronne, who frequently appears on the show. In a show of emotion, Letterman was nearly in tears as he thanked the health care team with the words "These are the people who saved my life!" The episode earned an Emmy nomination. For a number of episodes, Letterman continued to crack jokes about his bypass, including saying, "Bypass surgery: it's when doctors surgically create new blood flow to your heart. A bypass is what happened to me when I didn't get The Tonight Show! It's a whole different thing." In a later running gag he lobbied his home state of Indiana to rename the freeway circling Indianapolis (I-465) "The David Letterman Bypass." He also featured a montage of faux news coverage of his bypass surgery, which included a clip of Letterman's heart for sale on the Home Shopping Network. Letterman became friends with his doctors and nurses. In 2008, a Rolling Stone interview stated
he hosted a doctor and nurse who'd helped perform the emergency quintuple-bypass heart surgery that saved his life in 2000. 'These are people who were complete strangers when they opened my chest,' he says. 'And now, eight years later, they're among my best friends.'
Additionally, Letterman invited the band Foo Fighters to play "Everlong", introducing them as "my favorite band, playing my favorite song." During a later Foo Fighters appearance, Letterman said that Foo Fighters had been in the middle of a South American tour which they canceled to come play on his comeback episode.
Letterman again handed over the reins of the show to several guest hosts (including Bill Cosby, Brad Garrett, Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Costello, John McEnroe, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, Bonnie Hunt, Luke Wilson and bandleader Paul Shaffer) in February 2003, when he was diagnosed with a severe case of shingles. Later that year, Letterman made regular use of guest hosts—including Tom Arnold and Kelsey Grammer—for new shows broadcast on Fridays. In March 2007, Adam Sandler—who had been scheduled to be the lead guest—served as a guest host while Letterman was ill with a stomach virus.
Re-signing with CBS
In March 2002, as Letterman's contract with CBS neared expiration, ABC offered him the time slot for long-running news program Nightline with Ted Koppel. Letterman was interested as he believed he could never match Leno's ratings at CBS due to Letterman's complaint of weaker lead-ins from the network's late local news programs, but was reluctant to replace Koppel. Letterman addressed his decision to re-sign on the air, stating that he was content at CBS and that he had great respect for Koppel.
On December 4, 2006, CBS revealed that Letterman signed a new contract to host Late Show with David Letterman through the fall of 2010. "I'm thrilled to be continuing on at CBS," said Letterman. "At my age you really don't want to have to learn a new commute." Letterman further joked about the subject by pulling up his right pants leg, revealing a tattoo, presumably temporary, of the ABC logo.
"Thirteen years ago, David Letterman put CBS late night on the map and in the process became one of the defining icons of our network," said Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corporation.
His presence on our air is an ongoing source of pride, and the creativity and imagination that the Late Show puts forth every night is an ongoing display of the highest quality entertainment. We are truly honored that one of the most revered and talented entertainers of our time will continue to call CBS 'home.'
According to a 2007 article in Forbes magazine, Letterman earned US$40 million a year. A 2009 article in The New York Times, however, said his salary was estimated at US$32 million per year. In June 2009, Letterman's Worldwide Pants and CBS reached agreement to continue the Late Show until at least August 2012. The previous contract had been set to expire in 2010, and the two-year extension is shorter than the typical three-year contract period negotiated in the past. Worldwide Pants agreed to lower its fee for the show, though it had remained a "solid moneymaker for CBS" under the previous contract.
On the February 3, 2011, edition of the Late Show, during an interview with Howard Stern, Letterman said he would continue to do his talk show for "maybe two years, I think."
In April 2012, CBS announced it had extended its contract with Letterman through 2014. His contract was subsequently extended to 2015.
Retirement from Late Show
During the taping of his April 3, 2014, show, Letterman announced that he had informed CBS president Leslie Moonves that he would retire from hosting Late Show by May 20, 2015. It was announced soon after that comedian and political satirist Stephen Colbert would succeed Letterman. Letterman's last episode aired on May 20, 2015, and opened with a presidential send off featuring the four of the five living American presidents, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, each mimicking the late president Gerald Ford's statement that "Our long national nightmare is over." It also featured cameos from The Simpsons and Wheel of Fortune (the latter with a puzzle saying "Good riddance to David Letterman"), a Top Ten List of "things I wish I could have said to David Letterman" performed by regular guests including Alec Baldwin, Barbara Walters, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Chris Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Peyton Manning, Tina Fey, and Bill Murray, and closed with a montage of scenes from both his CBS and NBC series set to a live performance of "Everlong" by Foo Fighters.
The final episode of Late Show with David Letterman was watched by 13.76 million viewers in the United States with an audience share of 9.3/24, earning the show its highest ratings since following the 1994 Olympics on February 25, 1994, and the show's highest demo numbers (4.1 in adults 25-54 and 3.1 in adults 18-49) since Oprah Winfrey's first Late Show appearance following the ending of her feud with Letterman on December 1, 2005. In a rarity for a late-night show, it was also the highest-rated program on network television that night, beating out all prime-time shows. In total, Letterman hosted 6,028 episodes of Late Night and Late Show, surpassing friend and mentor Johnny Carson as the longest-serving late night talk show host in American television history.
In the months following the end of Late Show Letterman has been seen occasionally at sports events such as the Indianapolis 500, during which he submitted to an interview with a local publication. He made a surprise appearance on stage in San Antonio, Texas when he was invited up for an extended segment during Steve Martin and Martin Short's A Very Stupid Conversation show saying "I retired, and...I have no regrets," Letterman told the crowd after walking on stage. "I was happy. I'll make actual friends. I was complacent. I was satisfied. I was content, and then a couple of days ago Donald Trump said he was running for president. I have made the biggest mistake of my life, ladies and gentlemen" and then delivering a Top Ten List roasting Donald Trump's presidential campaign followed by an on-stage conversation with Martin and Short. Cell phone recordings of the appearance were posted on YouTube by audience members and were widely reported in the media.
In 2016, Letterman joined the climate change documentary show Years of Living Dangerously as one of the show's celebrity correspondents. In season two's premiere episode, Letterman traveled to India to investigate the country's efforts to expand its inadequate energy grid, power its booming economy and bring electricity for the first time to 300 million citizens. He also interviewed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and traveled to rural villages where power is a scarce luxury and explored the United States role in India's energy future.
Letterman has announced that in 2018 he will be hosting a six-episode series of hour-long programs on Netflix consisting of long-form interviews and field segments.
NBC and Johnny Carson
In spite of Johnny Carson's clear intention to pass his title to Letterman, NBC selected Jay Leno to host The Tonight Show after Carson's departure. Letterman maintained a close relationship with Carson through his break with NBC. Three years after he left for CBS, HBO produced a made-for-television movie called The Late Shift, based on a book by The New York Times reporter Bill Carter, chronicling the battle between Letterman and Leno for the coveted Tonight Show hosting spot.
Carson later made a few cameo appearances as a guest on Letterman's show. Carson's final television appearance came May 13, 1994, on a Late Show episode taped in Los Angeles, when he made a surprise appearance during a 'Top 10 list' segment. In early 2005, it was revealed that Carson occasionally sent jokes to Letterman, who used these jokes in his monologue; according to CBS senior vice president Peter Lassally (a one-time producer for both men), Carson got "a big kick out of it." Letterman would do a characteristic Johnny Carson golf swing after delivering one of Carson's jokes. In a tribute to Carson, all of the opening monologue jokes during the first show following Carson's death were written by Carson.
Lassally also claimed that Carson had always believed Letterman, not Leno, to be his "rightful successor." During the early years of the Late Show's run, Letterman occasionally used some of Carson's trademark bits, including "Carnac the Magnificent" (with Paul Shaffer as Carnac), "Stump the Band", and the "Week in Review."
Oprah Winfrey appeared on Letterman's show when he was hosting NBC's Late Night on May 2, 1989. Following that appearance, the two had a 16-year feud which arose, as Winfrey explained to Letterman after the feud had been resolved, as a result of the acerbic tone of their 1989 interview of which she said that it "felt so uncomfortable to me that I didn't want to have that experience again".
The feud apparently ended in 2005 when Winfrey appeared on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman on December 2, in an event Letterman jokingly referred to as "the Super Bowl of Love".
Winfrey and Letterman also appeared together in a Late Show promo that aired during CBS's coverage of Super Bowl XLI in February 2007, with the two sitting next to each other on the couch watching the game. Since the game was played between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears, the Indianapolis-born Letterman wears a Peyton Manning jersey, while Winfrey—whose show was taped in Chicago—wears a Brian Urlacher jersey. On September 10, 2007, Letterman made his first appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Three years later, during CBS's coverage of Super Bowl XLIV, the two appeared again in a Late Show promo, this time with Winfrey sitting on a couch between Letterman and Jay Leno. This time Letterman was wearing the retired No. 70 jersey of Colts' Hall of Fame and Letterman regular guest, Art Donovan (the Colts faced the New Orleans Saints in this Super Bowl). The appearance was Letterman's idea: Leno flew to New York City on an NBC corporate jet, sneaking into the Ed Sullivan Theater during the Late Show's February 4 taping wearing a disguise, meeting Winfrey and Letterman at a living room set created in the theater's balcony where they taped their promo.
Winfrey interviewed Letterman in January 2013 on Oprah's Next Chapter. Winfrey and Letterman discussed their feud during the interview and Winfrey revealed that she had had a "terrible experience" while appearing on Letterman's show years earlier. Letterman could not recall the incident but apologized.
2007–2008 writers' strike
Late Show went off air for eight weeks during the months of November and December because of the Writers Guild of America strike. Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants, was the first company to make an individual agreement with the WGA, thus allowing his show to come back on air on January 2, 2008. On his first episode since being off air, he surprised the viewing audience with his newly grown beard, which signified solidarity with the strike. His beard was shaved off during the show on January 7, 2008.
On June 8 and 9, 2009, Letterman told two sexually themed jokes about a daughter (never named) of Sarah Palin on his TV show. Palin was in New York City at the time with her then fourteen-year-old daughter, Willow, and some contemporaries thought the jokes to be aimed at Willow, which caused some small amount of controversy. In a statement posted on the Internet, Palin said, "I doubt [Letterman would] ever dare make such comments about anyone else's daughter," and that "laughter incited by sexually perverted comments made by a 62-year-old male celebrity aimed at a 14-year-old girl is disgusting." On his show of June 10, Letterman responded to the controversy, saying the jokes were meant to be about Palin's eighteen-year-old daughter, Bristol, whose pregnancy as an unmarried teenager had caused some controversy during the United States presidential election of 2008. "These are not jokes made about (Palin's) 14-year-old daughter," he said. "I would never, never make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year-old girl." His remarks did not put an end to public criticism, however. The National Organization for Women released a statement supporting Palin, noting that Letterman had given "[only] something of an apology." When the controversy failed to subside, Letterman addressed the issue again on his show of June 15, faulting himself for the error and apologizing "especially to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke."
Al-Qaeda death threat
On August 17, 2011, it was reported that an Islamist militant had posted a death threat against Letterman on a website frequented by Al-Qaeda supporters, calling on American Muslims to kill Letterman for making a joke about the death of an Al-Qaeda leader killed in a drone strike in Pakistan in June 2011, Ilyas Kashmiri. In his show on August 22, Letterman joked about the threat, saying "State Department authorities are looking into this. They're not taking this lightly. They're looking into it. They're questioning, they're interrogating, there's an electronic trail—but everybody knows it's Leno."
Appearances in other media
Letterman appeared in issue 239 of the Marvel comic book The Avengers, in which the title characters are guests on Late Night. A parody of Letterman, named "David Endochrine", is gassed to death along with his bandleader named "Paul" and their audience in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.
Letterman appeared in the pilot episode of the short-lived 1986 series "Coach Toast", and he appears with a bag over his head as a guest on Bonnie Hunt's ca. 1993 sitcom The Building. He also appears in The Simpsons as himself in a couch gag when the Simpsons find themselves (and the couch) in "Late Night with David Letterman". He had a cameo in the feature film Cabin Boy, with Chris Elliott, who worked as a writer on Letterman's show. In this and other appearances, Letterman is listed in the credits as "Earl Hofert", the name of Letterman's maternal grandfather. He also appeared as himself in the Howard Stern biographical film Private Parts as well as the 1999 Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon, in a few episodes of Garry Shandling's 1990s TV series The Larry Sanders Show and in "The Abstinence", a 1996 episode of the sitcom Seinfeld.
Letterman provided vocals for the Warren Zevon song "Hit Somebody" from My Ride's Here, and provided the voice for Butt-head's father in the 1996 animated film Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, once again credited as Earl Hofert.
In 2010, a documentary Dying to do Letterman was released directed by Joke Fincioen and Biagio Messina featuring Steve Mazan, a stand up comic, who has cancer and wants to appear on the Letterman show. The film won best documentary and jury awards at the Cinequest Film Festival. Steve Mazan published a same-titled book (full title, Dying to Do Letterman: Turning Someday into Today) about his own saga.
Letterman appeared as a guest on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight on May 29, 2012, when he was interviewed by Regis Philbin, the guest host and long-time friend. Philbin again interviewed Letterman (and Shaffer) while guest-hosting CBS' The Late Late Show (between the tenures of Craig Ferguson and James Corden) on January 27, 2015.
In June 2013, he appeared in the second episode of season two of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Letterman started his production company—Worldwide Pants Incorporated—which produced his show and several others, including Everybody Loves Raymond; The Late Late Show and two television series for Bonnie Hunt. Worldwide Pants also produced the dramedy program Ed which aired on NBC from 2000–2004. It was Letterman's first association with NBC since he left the network in 1993. During the run of Ed, the star, Tom Cavanagh, appeared as a guest on the Late Show several times.
In 2005, Worldwide Pants produced its first feature film, Strangers with Candy, which was a prequel to the Comedy Central TV series of the same title. In 2007, Worldwide Pants produced the ABC comedy series, Knights of Prosperity.
Worldwide Pants made significant news in December 2007 when it was announced that Letterman's company had independently negotiated its own contract with the Writers Guild of America, East, thus allowing Letterman, Craig Ferguson, and their writers to return to work, while the union continued its strike against production companies, networks and studios who had not reached an agreement.
In late April 2010, several music industry websites reported that Letterman started a record label named Clear Entertainment/C.E. Music and signed his first artist, Runner Runner. Lucy Walsh announced on her MySpace page that she has been signed by Letterman and Clear Entertainment/C.E. Music and is working on her album.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR) is an auto racing team that currently races in the United SportsCar Championship (formerly the American Le Mans Series), and full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series. It is co-owned by 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, businessman Mike Lanigan, and Letterman himself, and is based in Hilliard, Ohio. The team won the 2004 Indianapolis 500 with driver Buddy Rice.
The Letterman Foundation for Courtesy and Grooming is a private foundation through which Letterman has donated millions of dollars to charities and other non-profits in Indiana and Montana, celebrity-affiliated organizations such as Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, universities such as Ball State, and other organizations such as the American Cancer Society, Salvation Army, and Doctors Without Borders.
Letterman's biggest influence and his mentor was Johnny Carson. Other comedians that influenced Letterman were Paul Dixon, Steve Allen, Jonathan Winters, Garry Moore, Jack Paar, Don Rickles, and David Brenner. Although Ernie Kovacs is often cited as having influenced Letterman, he has denied this.
Comedians that were influenced by Letterman include: Stephen Colbert, Ray Romano, Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Jon Stewart, Arsenio Hall, Larry Wilmore, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon, John Oliver, and James Corden.
In 2015, Forbes estimated that Letterman's annual income was $35 million.
Marriages, relationships, and family
On July 2, 1968, Letterman married his college sweetheart Michelle Cook (born July 2, 1946) in Muncie, Indiana; the marriage ended in divorce by October 1977. He also had a long-term relationship and lived with former head writer and producer on Late Night, Merrill Markoe (born August 13, 1948) from 1978 to 1988. Markoe was the mind behind several Late Night staples, such as "Stupid Pet/Human Tricks". Time magazine states that she was the defining relationship in Letterman's career as his writing partner "who put the surrealism in Letterman's comedy."
Letterman and Regina Lasko (born November 20, 1960) started dating in February 1986, while he was still living with Markoe. He has a son, Harry Joseph Letterman (born November 3, 2003), with her. Harry is named after Letterman's father. In 2005, police discovered a plot to kidnap Harry Letterman and ransom him for US$5 million. Kelly Frank, a house painter who had worked for Letterman, was charged in the conspiracy.
Letterman and Lasko wed on March 19, 2009, during a quiet courthouse civil ceremony in Choteau, Montana, where he purchased a ranch in 1999. Letterman announced the marriage during the taping of his show of March 23, shortly after congratulating Bruce Willis for getting married the previous week. Letterman told the audience he nearly missed the ceremony because his truck became stuck in mud two miles from their house. The family resides in North Salem, New York, on a 108-acre estate.
Letterman suffers from tinnitus (ringing in the ears), which is a symptom of hearing loss. On the Late Show in 1996, Letterman talked about his tinnitus in an interview he did with actor William Shatner, who has severe tinnitus himself, caused from an on-set explosion. Letterman said at first he could not figure out where the noise in his head was coming from and that he hears constant noises and ringing in his ears 24 hours a day.
Letterman no longer drinks alcohol and has on more than one occasion said that he had once been a "horrible alcoholic" and had begun drinking around the age of 13 until the age of 34, in 1981: "I was drunk 80% of the time. ... I loved it. I was one of those guys, I looked around, and everyone else had stopped drinking and I couldn't understand why." When he is shown on the Late Show (or, before that, on Late Night) drinking what appears to be alcohol, it is actually substituted with apple juice by the crew. In 2015, he said that "For years and years and years – 30, 40 years – I was anxious and hypochondriacal and an alcoholic, and many, many other things that made me different from other people." He became calmer through a combination of transcendental meditation and low doses of medication. Letterman has implied that he is a Lutheran.
Letterman's sister is a journalist, as is her husband. Their son, Liam Letterman Shelton, attended Letterman's alma mater, Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where Letterman funded the journalism school, and studied a four-year double major in journalism news/telecommunications news.
Beginning in May 1988, Letterman was stalked by Margaret Mary Ray, a woman suffering from schizophrenia. She stole his Porsche, camped out on his tennis court, and repeatedly broke into his house. Her exploits drew national attention, with Letterman occasionally joking about her on his show, although he never referred to her by name. After she committed suicide in October 1998, Letterman told The New York Times that he had great compassion for her. A spokesperson for Letterman said: "This is a sad ending to a confused life."
Extramarital affairs and blackmail attempt
On October 1, 2009, Letterman announced on his show that he had been the victim of a blackmail attempt by someone threatening to reveal that he'd had sex with several of his female employees, and at the same time, he confirmed that he had such relationships. He stated that three weeks earlier (on September 9, 2009) someone had left a package in his car with material he said he would write into a screenplay and a book if Letterman did not pay him US$2 million. Letterman said that he contacted the Manhattan District Attorney's office, ultimately cooperating with them to conduct a sting operation involving giving the man a phony check. Subsequently, Robert J. "Joe" Halderman, a producer of the CBS true crime journalism series 48 Hours, was arrested after trying to deposit the check. He was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury and pleaded not guilty to a charge of attempted grand larceny on October 2, 2009. Eventually, on March 9, 2010, he pleaded guilty to this same felony and served a six-month jail sentence, followed by probation and community service.
A central figure in the case and one of the women with whom Letterman had had a sexual relationship was his longtime personal assistant Stephanie Birkitt, who often appeared with him on his show. She had also worked for 48 Hours. Until a month prior to the revelations, she had shared a residence with Halderman, who allegedly had copied her personal diary and used it, along with private emails, in the blackmail package.
In the days following the initial announcement of the affairs and the arrest, several prominent women, including Kathie Lee Gifford, co-host of NBC's Today Show, and NBC news anchor Ann Curry questioned whether Letterman's affairs with subordinates created an unfair working environment. A spokesman for Worldwide Pants said that the company's sexual harassment policy did not prohibit sexual relationships between managers and employees. According to business news reporter Eve Tahmincioglu, "CBS suppliers are supposed to follow the company's business conduct policies" and the CBS 2008 Business Conduct Statement states that "If a consenting romantic or sexual relationship between a supervisor and a direct or indirect subordinate should develop, CBS requires the supervisor to disclose this information to his or her Company's Human Resources Department...".
On October 3, 2009, a former CBS employee, Holly Hester, announced that she and Letterman had engaged in a year-long "secret" affair in the early 1990s while she was his intern and a student at New York University.
On October 5, 2009, Letterman devoted a segment of his show to a public apology to his wife and staff. Three days later, Worldwide Pants announced that Birkitt had been placed on a "paid leave of absence" from the Late Show. On October 15, CBS News announced that the company's Chief Investigative Correspondent, Armen Keteyian, had been assigned to conduct an "in-depth investigation" into Letterman.
Letterman is a car enthusiast and owns an extensive collection. In 2012 it was reported that the collection consisted of ten Ferraris, eight Porsches, four Austin Healeys, two Honda motorcycles, a Chevy pickup and one car each from automakers Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, MG, Volvo and Pontiac.
In his 2013 appearance on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, part of Jerry Seinfeld's conversation with Letterman was filmed in Letterman's outwardly unassuming 1995 Volvo 960 station wagon that is powered by a 380 horsepower racing engine. Paul Newman had the car built for Letterman.
David Letterman Communication and Media Building
On September 7, 2007, Letterman visited his alma mater, Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, for the dedication of a communications facility named in his honor for his dedication to the university. The US$21 million, 75,000-square-foot (7,000 m2) David Letterman Communication and Media Building opened for the 2007 fall semester. Thousands of Ball State students, faculty, and local residents welcomed Letterman back to Indiana. Letterman's emotional speech touched on his struggles as a college student and his late father, and also included the "top ten good things about having your name on a building", finishing with "if reasonable people can put my name on a US$21 million building, anything is possible." Over many years Letterman "has provided substantial assistance to [Ball State's] Department of Telecommunications, including an annual scholarship that bears his name."
Awards and nominations
In his capacities as either a performer, producer, or as part of a writing team, Letterman is among the most nominated people in the history of the Emmy Awards with 52 nominations, winning two Daytime Emmys and ten Primetime Emmys since 1981. He won four American Comedy Awards and in 2011 became the first recipient of the Johnny Carson Award for Comedic Excellence at The Comedy Awards.
Letterman was a recipient of the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, where he was called "one of the most influential personalities in the history of television, entertaining an entire generation of late-night viewers with his unconventional wit and charm." On May 16, 2017, Letterman was named the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the award granted annually by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He was scheduled to receive the prize in a ceremony slated for October 22.