David Letterman, full name David Michael Letterman, born on April 12, 1947, is a multi-talented American television host, comedian, writer, and producer. His illustrious career spanned 33 years in late-night television talk shows.
His journey commenced on February 1, 1982, with the inaugural episode of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC, culminating in the final broadcast of Late Show with David Letterman on CBS on May 20, 2015.
Throughout this remarkable tenure, Letterman steered 6,080 episodes, a feat that surpassed his revered friend and mentor Johnny Carson, establishing Letterman as the longest-serving late-night talk show host in American television history.
Beyond his hosting prowess, Letterman delved into television and film production. His production company, Worldwide Pants, not only produced his shows but also spearheaded The Late Late Show and several highly successful primetime comedies.
Notably, the CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond emerged as one of the most triumphant ventures. David Letterman’s profound impact on the late-night entertainment landscape reverberates strongly.
Respected hosts like Conan O’Brien (who succeeded him on Late Night), Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert (his successor on The Late Show), Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart, and Seth Meyers credit their success to his groundbreaking approach.
Furthering his influence in the industry, since 2018, Letterman has hosted the Netflix series “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman.”
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David Letterman’s Early Life
Letterman entered the world in Indianapolis, Indiana 1947, born into a family with two sisters—one older and one younger.
His father, Harry Joseph Letterman, worked as a florist, while his mother, Dorothy Marie Letterman Mengering, served as a church secretary for the Second Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis. Dorothy occasionally appeared on David’s show, particularly during holidays and birthdays.
Growing up in the Broad Ripple area of north Indianapolis, roughly 12 miles from the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Letterman developed a passion for collecting model cars, especially racers.
Reflecting on his childhood, he admires his father’s humor and vibrant persona. However, the fear of losing his father, who survived a heart attack when David was young, lingered throughout his formative years.
Tragically, his father succumbed to a second heart attack in 1973 when he was 57 years old. Following his high school education at Broad Ripple High School, Letterman worked as a stock boy at a nearby Atlas Supermarket.
While his initial aim was to pursue studies at Indiana University, he redirected his path to attend Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, after falling short of the required grades.
Graduating in 1969 from the Department of Radio and Television at Ball State, Letterman was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. Despite considering himself an average student, he later established a scholarship for “C students” at Ball State.
Although he passed his physical examination and registered for the draft after college, Letterman was not called for service in Vietnam due to a draft lottery number of 346 out of 366.
His broadcasting career began at the student-run radio station WBST at Ball State, where he served as an announcer and newscaster.
Still, it was dismissed for his irreverent treatment of classical music. He founded another campus station—WAGO-AM 570 (now WCRD, 91.3).
Letterman acknowledges Paul Dixon, host of the Paul Dixon Show, a Cincinnati-based talk show he watched while growing up, as a pivotal figure influencing his career choice. Reflecting on seeing Dixon on TV, he recalled, “That’s really what I want to do!”
David Letterman’s Weatherman
Following his graduation from Ball State in 1969, Letterman embarked on his professional journey as a radio talk show host on WNTS (AM) and as a news anchor and weatherman at the Indianapolis television station WLWI (which later changed its call sign to WTHR in 1976).
His unconventional and offbeat on-air antics garnered attention, showcasing a penchant for unpredictable behavior.
His remarkable on-air incidents included applauding a tropical storm’s elevation to hurricane status and comically predicting hailstones “the size of canned hams.”
He occasionally provided fictitious weather reports for made-up cities, humorously reporting non-existent events such as “eight inches of snow in Bingree and surrounding areas.”
Not limited to traditional weather reporting, Letterman once humorously claimed that a satellite map omitted the state border between Indiana and Ohio, humorously attributing it to political shenanigans.
He amusingly remarked, “The higher-ups have removed the border between Indiana and Ohio, making it one giant state. I’m against it. I don’t know what to do about it.”
Beyond his weatherman role, Letterman diversified his portfolio, participating in various projects. He engaged a young audience by starring in a local children’s show, displayed his wit as the host of “Freeze-Dried Movies” (even acting out a Godzilla scene with plastic dinosaurs), and helmed a talk show titled “Clover Power,” airing early on Saturday mornings. In this show, he interviewed 4-H members about their projects.
In 1971, Letterman ventured onto the national stage as a pit road reporter for ABC Sports’ delayed broadcast of the Indianapolis 500.
He was initially introduced erroneously as Jim McKay, later announced as Chris Economaki, his real name as Dave Letterman. During this stint, he interviewed Mario Andretti, who had recently exited the race due to a crash.
David Letterman’s Move to Los Angeles
In 1975, spurred by encouragement from his then-wife Michelle and several Sigma Chi fraternity brothers, Letterman made a life-changing decision to relocate to Los Angeles, California, nurturing aspirations of a career in comedy writing.
Loading their belongings into his pickup truck, David and Michelle embarked on a westward journey. Remarkably, as of 2012, he still possessed the very same truck.
Upon arrival in Los Angeles, he ventured into the comedy scene, initiating his performances at The Comedy Store.
His comedic talent caught the attention of Jimmie Walker, leading to a recommendation by George Miller to join a cadre of comedians enlisted by Walker to pen jokes for his stand-up routine.
This group included luminaries like Jay Leno, Louie Anderson, Paul Mooney, Robert Schimmel, Richard Jeni, Elayne Boosler, Jack Handey, Byron Allen, and Steve Oedekerk at different times.
By the summer of 1977, Letterman had secured roles as a writer and a regular contributor on the CBS six-week summer series, The Starland Vocal Band Show.
Additionally, he hosted a pilot for a game show titled The Riddlers in 1977, although the show still needs to be picked up. He also co-starred in the Barry Levinson-produced comedy extraordinary Peeping Times, broadcast in January 1978.
Diversifying his skills, Letterman broadened his entertainment pursuits by joining Mary Tyler Moore’s variety show, “Mary,” as a cast member in 1978.
He showcased his versatility through guest appearances on TV shows such as “Mork & Mindy,” where he comically portrayed EST leader Werner Erhard.
Additionally, he engaged in game shows like “The $20,000 Pyramid,” “Hollywood Squares,” “The Gong Show,” “Password Plus,” and “Liar’s Club.”
Noteworthy appearances include his participation in the Canadian cooking show “Celebrity Cooks” in November 1977 and his presence on talk shows like “90 Minutes Live” and “The Mike Douglas Show.”
During a crucial juncture, Letterman underwent a screen test for the lead role in the 1980 film “Airplane!,” which was ultimately played by Robert Hays.
His distinctive dry and sardonic wit caught the attention of scouts from “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” leading to regular guest appearances and eventually guest hosting, commencing in 1978. Letterman openly credits Carson as the most influential figure in shaping his career path.
David Letterman in NBC
The David Letterman Show
On June 23, 1980, David Letterman received his platform, a morning comedy show on NBC titled The David Letterman Show. Initially set for 90 minutes, the front was trimmed to 60 minutes in August 1980.
While the program earned critical acclaim, winning two Emmy Awards, it struggled to garner strong ratings. Unfortunately, the curtain fell on this venture, with the final episode airing on October 24, 1980.
Late Night with David Letterman
NBC retained Letterman, exploring a new avenue for his talent. He debuted Late Night with David Letterman on February 1, 1982, marking its commencement with Bill Murray as the first guest.
Murray remained a recurring figure in Letterman’s television journey, gracing milestone episodes like celebrating his 30th anniversary on late-night television (aired on January 31, 2012) and the final CBS show (aired on May 20, 2015).
At its inception, the show aired Monday through Thursday at 12:30 A.M. Eastern Time, following The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Subsequently, a Friday night broadcast was added in June 1987.
The show embraced an edgy and unpredictable nature, swiftly cultivating a devoted following, especially among college students.
Letterman’s reputation as an intelligent interviewer was fortified through spirited exchanges with notable guests like Cher, Shirley MacLaine, Charles Grodin, and Madonna. The program adopted comedy segments and recurring characters, heavily influenced by the stylings of 1950s and 1960s programs hosted by Steve Allen.
Among its distinctive regular features were genre-mocking segments such as “Stupid Human Tricks” and “Stupid Pet Tricks,” unconventional experiments like dropping various items from a five-story building, and displays of strange attire, including suits fashioned from Alka-Seltzer, Velcro, and suet.
The show also introduced recurring segments like the Top 10 list, the Monkey Cam, facetious letter-answering components, and “Film[s] by My Dog Bob,” featuring comic episodes captured by Letterman’s pet dog.
Furthermore, episodes brimmed with offbeat antics, including memorable incidents like Letterman interrupting a live interview on The Today Show disguised as NBC News president Lawrence K. Grossman, staging “elevator races,” and a scripted altercation between Andy Kaufman and professional wrestler Jerry Lawler.
David Letterman in CBS
Late Show with David Letterman
In 1992, Johnny Carson’s retirement stirred widespread anticipation among fans and Carson himself that David Letterman would assume the reins of The Tonight Show.
However, when NBC unexpectedly passed the torch to Jay Leno, overlooking Letterman, he parted ways with the network.
Subsequently, Letterman embarked on hosting his late-night program on CBS, slated opposite The Tonight Show at 11:30 P.M., christened the Late Show with David Letterman.
The inaugural episode premiered on August 30, 1993, and was filmed at the iconic Ed Sullivan Theater—a historic venue where Ed Sullivan helmed his famous variety series from 1948 to 1971.
In preparation for Letterman’s arrival, CBS invested $8 million in theater renovations. Moreover, CBS secured Letterman with a lucrative three-year contract worth $14 million annually, doubling his salary from his Late Night tenure.
Though there were expectations that Letterman would seamlessly transplant his distinctive style and comedic flair to the new network, the Late Show deviated somewhat from his previous NBC program. The monologue was extended, allowing Letterman’s wit to shine.
Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band transitioned to CBS alongside Letterman but changed, incorporating a brass section and rebranding as the CBS Orchestra at Shaffer’s request. Carson’s prior directive mandated a smaller band during Letterman’s tenure in the 12:30 slot.
Furthermore, due to intellectual property disputes, Letterman faced constraints importing many of his Late Night segments verbatim.
However, he deftly maneuvered around this hurdle by simply renaming these segments—such as the “Top Ten List” being rechristened as the “Late Show Top Ten” and “Viewer Mail” transformed into the “CBS Mailbag,” among others.
Time magazine lauded Letterman’s innovative approach, noting that his creativity derived strength from its meticulous structure. Jason Zinoman, his biographer, described him as “a captivatingly discontented oddball ensnared within a more conventional talk show.”
David Letterman’s Popularity
The Late Show competed directly with NBC’s The Tonight Show, led by Jay Leno for 22 years, from 1992 to 2014. A brief interlude occurred from June 1, 2009, to January 22, 2010, when Conan O’Brien hosted The Tonight Show.
Initially, during 1993 and 1994, the Late Show consistently outperformed The Tonight Show in ratings. However, a shift occurred in 1995 when Leno’s program began surpassing Letterman’s following Hugh Grant’s appearance on Leno’s show after Grant’s arrest for soliciting a prostitute.
Leno maintained an average of approximately five million nightly viewers from 1999 to 2009. In contrast, the Late Show faced a notable decline, experiencing a reduction in its audience size.
Initially drawing in 7.1 million viewers per night during its 1993–94 season, the Late Show’s viewership dwindled to around 3.8 million per night by Leno’s departure in 2009.
Towards the end of Leno’s first stint as host of The Tonight Show, he maintained a significant lead over Letterman, attracting 5.2 million viewers compared to Letterman’s 3.9 million. During this period, Nightline and The Late Show had comparable ratings.
With O’Brien taking the reins of The Tonight Show, Letterman narrowed the rating disparity. O’Brien initially skewed The Tonight Show’s viewership age demographic from 55 to 45, with older viewers transitioning to the Late Show.
However, he regained the lead upon Leno’s return to The Tonight Show. Despite this, Letterman’s Late Show received widespread acclaim, earning 67 Emmy Award nominations and securing 12 wins during his first 20 years in late-night television.
In the annual Harris Poll of Nation’s Favorite TV Personality between 1993 and 2009, Letterman surpassed Leno 12 times.
Notably, in 2003 and 2004, Letterman ranked second in the poll, with Leno placed fifth. Conversely, Leno outranked Letterman thrice in the same period, specifically in 1998, 2007, and 2008.
David Letterman’s Hosting the Academy Awards
On March 27, 1995, David Letterman took center stage as the 67th Academy Awards ceremony host. However, his performance received harsh criticism from critics who found his irreverent style detrimental, eroding the traditional significance and glamour of the event.
His attempt at humor, particularly a joke referencing the unusual names of celebrities, fell flat. He introduced Uma Thurman to Oprah Winfrey and Keanu Reeves, quipping, “Oprah…Uma. Uma…Oprah,” teasingly asking, “Have you kids met Keanu?”
Despite attracting the highest ratings since 1983 for the annual telecast, the negative publicity generated from his hosting was believed to have adversely affected the Late Show’s ratings.
Turning the apparent debacle into an ongoing joke, Letterman humorously reflected on the event. He quipped on his first show after the Oscars, “Looking back, I had no idea that thing was being televised.”
Two years later, he playfully mocked his hosting stint during Billy Crystal’s opening Oscar skit, which parodied scenes from the year’s prominent film, The English Patient.
In the years following, Letterman frequently revisited his experience hosting the Oscars. Despite the criticism, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held him in high regard, extending invitations to host the Oscars again.
Reflecting on this chapter of his career, during the premiere of the 14th season of The View on September 7, 2010, Letterman confirmed that he had been considered for hosting the prestigious event once more.
David Letterman’s Heart surgery hiatus
On January 14, 2000, a routine medical check-up revealed a severe blockage in David Letterman’s heart artery, necessitating emergency surgery for a quintuple bypass at New York Presbyterian Hospital. During his initial recovery period, reruns of The Late Show were aired.
The show’s introductions were presented by an array of Letterman’s friends, including Norm Macdonald, Ray Romano, Drew Barrymore, Robin Williams, Megan Mullally, Bill Murray, Bonnie Hunt, Regis Philbin, Charles Grodin, Bruce Willis, Jerry Seinfeld, Nathan Lane, Julia Roberts, Martin Short, Steven Seagal, Hillary Clinton, Steve Martin, Danny DeVito, and Sarah Jessica Parker.
As he continued recuperating, Letterman revived the “guest hosts” tradition in late-night talk shows. While still in the recovery phase, he allowed Bill Cosby, Dana Carvey, Kathie Lee Gifford, Janeane Garofalo, and others to step in as hosts for new episodes of The Late Show.
Upon his return on February 21, 2000, Letterman invited nearly all the doctors and nurses involved in his surgery and recovery onto the stage, playfully teasing one nurse who had assisted with his bed baths. Notably, he showcased Dr. O. Wayne Isom and physician Louis Aronne, regular faces on the show.
Even after his return, Letterman incorporated jokes about his bypass experience into his monologues, humorously quipping about the surgery and its implications.
He lightheartedly campaigned for renaming Indianapolis’ I-465 freeway as “The David Letterman Bypass.” He featured a satirical montage of fabricated news coverage of his bypass surgery, including a clip of his “for sale” heart on the Home Shopping Network.
Building friendships with his medical team, Letterman later expressed gratitude and fondness, highlighting their unexpected bond.
During his recovery, Letterman welcomed the band Foo Fighters to perform “Everlong,” expressing his admiration for them and their music.
On his final show, which featured Foo Fighters, he acknowledged their gesture of canceling a South American tour to perform on his comeback episode.
In February 2003, when diagnosed with a severe case of shingles, Letterman once again handed over hosting duties to several guest hosts, including Brad Garrett, Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, John McEnroe, Vince Vaughn, Elvis Costello, Will Ferrell, Bonnie Hunt, Luke Wilson, and bandleader Paul Shaffer.
Later that year, recurring guest hosts like Tom Arnold and Kelsey Grammer took charge of Friday broadcasts.
In March 2007, Adam Sandler stepped in as a guest host while Letterman was indisposed during an illness due to a stomach virus.
David Letterman’s Re-signing with CBS
In March 2002, when David Letterman’s contract with CBS was approaching its end, ABC offered him the opportunity to take over the time slot occupied by the long-established news program Nightline with Ted Koppel.
Letterman showed interest as he believed he couldn’t rival Leno’s ratings at CBS due to concerns about weaker lead-ins from the network’s late local news shows.
However, he hesitated to replace Koppel and ultimately re-signed with CBS. Addressing this decision on air, he expressed contentment with CBS and admiration for Koppel.
On December 4, 2006, CBS announced that Letterman had inked a fresh contract to continue hosting the Late Show until fall 2010.
Expressing his enthusiasm, Letterman humorously joked about the renewal by revealing a temporary tattoo of the ABC logo on his right leg, playfully teasing about a hypothetical shift to another network.
Leslie Moonves, CBS Corporation’s president and CEO, commended David Letterman’s substantial contribution, acknowledging, ” David Letterman put, Thirteen years ago, CBS late night on the map and became one of the defining icons of our network. His presence on our air is an ongoing source of pride.”
Moonves commended the consistent delivery of top-tier entertainment on the Late Show. According to reports from Forbes magazine, Letterman earned an estimated $40 million annually in 2007, while The New York Times suggested his salary was approximately $32 million in 2009.
In June 2009, Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants, and CBS agreed to prolong the Late Show’s tenure until at least August 2012.
Notably, this extension was for a shorter duration of two years, deviating from the typical three-year contracts from the past. This deal included Worldwide Pants reducing its fee for the show while still proving profitable for CBS.
In a conversation with Howard Stern on the February 3, 2011, episode of The Late Show, Letterman hinted that he might continue the talk show for “maybe two years, I think.” In April 2012, CBS announced an extension of its contract with Letterman through 2014, later prolonging it to 2015.
David Letterman’s Retirement from Late Show
On April 3, 2014, while recording his show, David Letterman disclosed that he had notified CBS president Leslie Moonves about his intention to retire from hosting the Late Show before May 20, 2015.
In subsequent jests made during his retirement, Letterman occasionally quipped that he had been fired. Shortly after his announcement, it was revealed that Stephen Colbert, a comedian and political satirist, would succeed Letterman.
The finale of Letterman’s tenure on May 20, 2015, commenced with a presidential tribute featuring four of the living American presidents—George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—each echoing the late President Gerald Ford’s famous words, “Our long national nightmare is over.”
The show included cameos from The Simpsons and Wheel of Fortune (with a puzzle reading “Good riddance to David Letterman”), a poignant Top Ten List featuring regular guests like Alec Baldwin, Jerry Seinfeld, Barbara Walters, Steve Martin, Jim Carrey, Chris Rock, Peyton Manning, Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Bill Murray.
It concluded with an NBC series set to a live performance of “Everlong” and a montage of scenes from his CBS by Foo Fighters.
The concluding episode of The Late Show with David Letterman attracted 13.76 million viewers in the United States, amassing an audience share of 9.3/24. This marked the show’s highest ratings since the 1994 Winter Olympics on February 25, 1994.
Additionally, it achieved its highest demographic numbers, reaching 4.1 in adults aged 25–54 and 3.1 in adults aged 18–49 since Oprah Winfrey’s initial appearance after her reconciliation with Letterman on December 1, 2005.
Bill Murray, the first guest on Late Night, was his final guest on Late Show. An exceptional feat for a late-night program, it emerged as the highest-rated program on network television that night, surpassing all primetime shows.
Throughout his career, Letterman hosted 6,080 episodes across Late Night and Late Show. He surpassed Johnny Carson as U.S. television’s longest-serving late-night talk show host.
David Letterman’s Post-Late Show
In the months following the conclusion of The Late Show, David Letterman was spotted at various events like the Indianapolis 500, where he participated in an interview for a local publication.
He unexpectedly appeared on stage during Steve Martin’s and Martin Short’s A Very Stupid Conversation show in San Antonio, Texas.
He humorously shared his satisfaction with retirement there, only to comically express regret after Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign.
Delivering a Top Ten List poking fun at Trump’s campaign and engaging in an onstage conversation with Martin and Short, the moment became widely shared through cellphone recordings posted on YouTube by attendees and received significant media coverage.
In 2016, Letterman joined the documentary series Years of Living Dangerously as a celebrity correspondent focused on climate change.
In the show’s second season premiere, he traveled to India, examining the country’s efforts to enhance its energy grid, power its growing economy, and provide electricity to 300 million citizens for the first time.
Letterman interviewed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visited rural villages struggling with limited access to power, exploring the role of the United States in India’s energy future.
On April 7, 2017, Letterman delivered the induction speech for the band Pearl Jam at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York City.
Additionally, in 2017, Letterman and Alec Baldwin co-hosted The Essentials on Turner Classic Movies, presenting seven films for the series.
David Letterman’s Notable exchanges and incidents
Despite Johnny Carson’s intentions for Letterman to take over The Tonight Show, NBC chose Jay Leno.
HBO’s The Late Shift depicted the rivalry between Letterman and Leno for The Tonight Show. Carson made cameo appearances on Letterman’s show and occasionally sent jokes to him. Letterman honored Carson’s legacy by featuring some of his iconic segments.
Oprah Winfrey and Letterman resolved a 16-year feud in 2005 on a special episode called “The Super Bowl of Love.”
They appeared together in subsequent promos and interviews. The Late Show paused for eight weeks during the 2007 writers’ strike, returning on January 2, 2008, with Letterman sporting a solidarity beard.
In 2009, controversial sexually-themed jokes about Sarah Palin’s daughters sparked public outrage. Letterman clarified that the marks were meant for Bristol, not Willow, and apologized for the error.
An Al-Qaeda supporter posted a death threat against Letterman in 2011, prompting humor from Letterman on his show, jokingly attributing it to Jay Leno.
David Letterman’s Appearances in other media
Letterman made various appearances across TV shows, movies, and even comics, often credited as “Earl Hofert,” his maternal grandfather’s name.
His appearances ranged from guest roles in The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and The Larry Sanders Show to voice work in animated films like Beavis and Butt-Head Do America.
He was parodied in comics like Marvel’s The Avengers and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. A documentary, “Dying to do Letterman,” featured a stand-up comic’s journey to appear on Letterman’s show, winning awards at film festivals.
Letterman made guest appearances on shows like Piers Morgan Tonight Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and even published a book in collaboration with Bruce McCall titled “This Land Was Made for You and Me (But Mostly Me).”
He joined Peyton and Eli Manning’s Manningcast during an NFL game and, in 2022, appeared as a guest on Late Night with Seth Meyers, marking the 40th anniversary of the franchise’s debut.
Lastly, he returned to the Ed Sullivan Theater on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in November 2023.
David Letterman’s Business ventures
In 1991, Letterman established his production company, Worldwide Pants Incorporated. Besides producing his show, the company ventured into creating feature films and documentaries and launched its record label, Clear Entertainment.
Notably, Worldwide Pants gained attention in December 2007 for independently negotiating a contract with the Writers Guild of America, East, enabling Letterman, Craig Ferguson, and their writers to return to work amid the union’s strike against other production entities.
Beyond entertainment, Letterman, alongside Bobby Rahal and Mike Lanigan, co-owns Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
This auto racing team competes in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and NTT IndyCar series. Notably, they secured victory at the Indianapolis 500 twice: in 2004 with driver Buddy Rice and in 2020 with Takuma Sato.
Additionally, through The Letterman Foundation for Courtesy and Grooming, a private foundation, Letterman has generously contributed millions to charities and nonprofit organizations.
Recipients of his philanthropy encompass various organizations in Indiana and Montana, along with well-known institutions such as the American Cancer Society, Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the Salvation Army, Ball State University, and Médecins Sans Frontières.
David Letterman’s Personal Life
David Letterman experiences tinnitus, a symptom of hearing loss. In 1996, on His Late Show, during an interview with William Shatner, who also suffers from severe tinnitus due to an on-set explosion, Letterman discussed his struggle with the condition. He described initially being unable to identify the constant ringing in his ears.
Letterman no longer consumes alcohol. Having acknowledged being a “horrible alcoholic” who began drinking at 13 and continued until he was 34 in 1981, he stated, “I was drunk 80% of the time… I loved it.” Instances where he appeared to be drinking alcohol on Late Night or the Late Show involved apple juice, not alcohol.
In 2015, Letterman opened up about his anxiety, noting that for decades, he had dealt with anxiety, hypochondria, alcoholism, and other challenges that set him apart. He found relief through Transcendental Meditation and low doses of medication.
Brought up in the Presbyterian faith by his mother, Letterman remarked on being motivated by what he termed “Lutheran, Midwestern guilt.”
In August 2021, Letterman encountered an accident in Providence, Rhode Island, where he suffered a head injury after hitting the sidewalk, leading to a loss of consciousness.
In a video shared by the hospital’s proprietor, he later expressed appreciation for the care and treatment he received at Rhode Island Hospital.
Marriages, Relationships, and Family
Letterman wed his college sweetheart, Michelle Cook, in 1968, yet their marriage ended in divorce by 1977.
Following this, he entered a significant relationship with Merrill Markoe, the former head writer and producer of Late Night, a partnership from 1978 to 1988. Markoe played a substantial role in crafting memorable segments such as “Stupid Pet/Human Tricks.”
His relationship with Regina Lasko began in 1986 while he was still with Markoe. They welcomed their son, Harry Joseph Letterman, in 2003. Letterman and Lasko married in 2009 and resided on a substantial estate in North Salem, New York.
Extortion Attempt and Revelations of Affairs
In 2009, Letterman disclosed on his show that he was a target of blackmail involving sexual relationships with female employees.
He revealed this after confirming a package was left in his car, threatening to disclose the affairs unless paid $2 million. A sting operation led to the arrest and subsequent guilty plea of the extortionist, a CBS producer.
The scandal involved one of the women, Stephanie Birkitt, who had a relationship with Letterman and worked on the show. Additional revelations emerged about another affair with a former intern, Holly Hester, in the early 1990s.
Starting in 1988, Margaret Mary Ray, who had schizophrenia, stalked Letterman, culminating in multiple incidents at his residence. Her tragic death by suicide in 1998 led Letterman to express compassion toward her.
In 2005, a woman obtained a restraining order against Letterman, claiming he sent coded messages via his TV program, causing her distress. Legal experts deemed the case frivolous.
Letterman is passionate about cars and owns a substantial collection that includes various high-end models like Ferraris, Porsches, and other classic cars and motorcycles.
He shares a close relationship with the rock band Foo Fighters, collaborating on various occasions. The band’s song “Miracle” holds personal significance for Letterman, as he discovered it was used in a video of himself and his son skiing, unbeknownst to him.
Additionally, Letterman co-produced Dave Grohl’s Sonic Highways TV series, showing his enthusiasm for the music industry.
David Letterman’s Filmography
In 1994, David Letterman played the role of “Old Salt In Fishing Village” in the film “Cabin Boy,” credited as Earl Hofert.
He made a cameo appearance as himself in the 1996 film “Eddie.” Additionally, the same year, he lent his voice as a Mötley Crüe roadie in “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America,” also called Earl Hofert.
The year 1997 saw Letterman again as himself, making a cameo appearance in “Private Parts.” In 1999, he made another cameo appearance as himself in the film “Man on the Moon.”
Further in his film career, in 2005, Letterman served as an executive producer for “Strangers with Candy.” In 2016, he had a cameo appearance as himself in “Sully.”
Moving on to 2019, Letterman appeared as himself in “Between Two Ferns: The Movie.” Most recently, in 2022, he appeared as himself in the stand-up special “Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special.”
David Letterman’s Documentary feature films
David Letterman has had a multifaceted career that spans both film and television. In his filmography, in 2005, he was featured in the documentary “Grizzly Man” where he played himself.
The footage was sourced from a 2001 episode of The Late Show with David Letterman starring Timothy Treadwell, although it was edited out for the DVD release.
His television career began in 1977 with roles as announcers and various characters in “The Starland Vocal Band Show” and continued in 1978 with a similar role in “Mary” across three episodes.
He portrayed Dan Cochran in the television film “Peeping Times” in 1978 and assumed the character of Matt Morgan in another TV film titled “Fast Friends” in 1979.
Letterman also guest-starred in various shows such as “The Mary Tyler Moore Hour” and “Mork & Mindy” before becoming the host of “The David Letterman Show” in 1980, where he played himself across 90 episodes and held credits as creator, writer, and executive producer.
His pivotal role as the host of “Late Night with David Letterman” began in 1982, and he remained there until 1993.
He maintained creative roles as the show’s creator, writer, and executive producer throughout this time. Letterman co-hosted the “38th Primetime Emmy Awards” in 1986, playing himself in this special event.
The pinnacle of his television career was marked by his role as the host of “Late Show with David Letterman,” which commenced in 1993 and ran until 2015.
Like his previous show, he held significant creative control as the creator, writer, and executive producer. Additionally, he made guest appearances in several other shows, including “Murphy Brown,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Seinfeld,” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
He expanded his contributions behind the scenes with executive producer roles in various television shows such as “The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder,” “Bonnie,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn,” “ED,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” and “The Knights of Prosperity.”
Moreover, Letterman contributed his voice as a character modeled after himself in an episode of “The Simpsons” called “The D’oh-social Network” in 2012.
Additionally, in a more recent development, he took on multiple roles as the host, creator, writer, and executive producer for the show “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman,” commencing in 2018 and continuing to the present day.
David Letterman’s Awards, honors, and legacy
The accolades and recognition garnered by David Letterman over the years underscore his monumental impact in the realm of television and entertainment.
In 1996, he clinched the 45th spot on TV Guide’s esteemed list of the 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time. His renowned show, The Late Show with David Letterman, achieved acclaim, securing seventh place on TV Guide’s 2002 list of the 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.
Demonstrating his strong ties with Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, Letterman received a heartfelt honor in 2007.
The university dedicated a state-of-the-art communications facility, the David Letterman Communication and Media Building, to recognize his unwavering commitment to the institution.
The $21 million facility spanning 75,000 square feet opened its doors for the fall semester, marking an emotional moment as thousands of Ball State students, faculty, and residents warmly welcomed Letterman back to his roots.
His poignant speech during the dedication touched upon personal struggles as a college student, memories of his late father, and humorously quipped about having his name adorn such a significant building, concluding with an inspiring note on the realm of possibilities.
Moreover, during the same ceremony, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels bestowed upon Letterman the Sagamore of the Wabash award, honoring his exceptional contributions and service to Indiana.
Throughout his illustrious career, Letterman’s impact has been celebrated through numerous awards and nominations.
His incredible track record includes an outstanding 52 Emmy Award nominations and notable victories, clinching two Daytime Emmys and an impressive ten Primetime Emmys since 1981.
His prowess earned him four American Comedy Awards, and, in a landmark achievement, he became the inaugural recipient of The Comedy Awards in 2011, the Johnny Carson Award for Comedic Excellence.
The recognition of his monumental influence persisted. In 2012, Letterman was bestowed with the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors, hailed as one of the most influential personalities in television history, captivating late-night audiences with his unique wit and charisma.
Adding to his roster of accolades, on May 16, 2017, Letterman was announced as the esteemed recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, an honor annually granted by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
He received this revered award during a ceremony held on October 22, 2017, further solidifying his legacy in American entertainment.
David Letterman’s Biography Resources
- David Letterman – Wikipedia
- Celebs Kingdom – David Letterman
- The Improv – Wikipedia
- David Letterman – Kids Kiddle
- And to All a Good Night Cocktail – Drunkard’s Almanac
- David Letterman – Pure History
- David Letterman – Yolo. lv
- Celebs Kingdom – David Letterman
- Our April 12 New Yorker of the Day is Talk Show Host David Letterman – Owning New York
- David Letterman – FamPeople
- 40 Fascinating and Interesting Facts about David Letterman – Tons of Facts
- And to All a Good Night Cocktail – Drunkard’s Almanac
- St. Elsewhere – TVprofil