“I don’t like goodbyes – NBC does – but I don’t care for them,” an emotional Jay Leno said, kicking off a star-studded final broadcast show as host of The Tonight Show. “Tonight is our last show for real. I don’t need to be fired three times — I get the hint,” Leno joked to a friends-and-family studio audience as he ended his 22-year run Thursday night. It’s his second very-last-time-as-host — having been pushed aside in 2009 by NBC to make way for Conan O’Brien, who lasted seven months.
“I’ve got to tell you, the outpouring from people has really been touching. Anthony Weiner sent me a photo of his penis looking really sad.”
In sharp contrast to the “last” time Leno celebrated his very last night as host of Tonight Show in 2009 — when, ever the team player, he had O’Brien as his final night’s guest — tonight’s show was packed with celebrities including President Obama. Longtime pal Garth Brooks performed his hit “The Dance.” And a cast of A-listers including Oprah Winfrey, Jack Black and Carol Burnett performed with Billy Crystal and The Shut Your Von Trapp Family Singers, the Rogers & Hammerstein tune from The Sound Of Music, “So Long, Farewell” with lyrics changed to suit the occasion. (Watch a clip below.) The show ended with Leno in tears as he thanked the audience, calling the Tonight Show crew his family and wishing his successor Jimmy Fallon well. (Video at the end of the post.)
But first, Leno mulled exactly how long 22 years is.
- “Here’s how long ago it is. When I started hosting, marijuana was illegal and you could smoke cigarettes anywhere you wanted.”
- “Twenty two years ago, guys actually had to go to newsstands for porn, can you imagine?”
- “So much has happened. You know the saddest part – OJ never found the real killers.”
Much of the night’s festivities were kept from Leno. He was surprised by a taped segment in which celebs were asked what they thought Jay should do next. Kevin Bacon suggested he take up painting, showing his own latest effort, which was a full-body nude of Jay — a nod to the time former President George W. Bush was a recently guest of Leno’s surprised him with a portrait that he’d painted.
“You made a lot of jokes about me over the years – I’m not upset,” said President Obama, announcing his appointment of Leno as “my new Ambassador to Antarctica. Hope you’ve got a coat funny man!”
“I was once the host of a late-night show myself,” Bob Costas reminisced, noting he too had been replaced by someone younger – “that no talent Greg Kinnear.” “You have to learn to deal with it — hello Doctor!” Costas said, taking a swig out of a large bottle of Jack Daniel’s. “You’re gonna be fine,” he reassured.
Crystal was Leno’s guest on his very first show — on Monday, May 25, 1992. At that performance, Leno told Crystal he wanted him to be his guest on his very last show. Crystal came out tonight, with actors playing moving company guys; they tagged some props, then Crystal did a couple minutes of stand-up in which he described Leno as the guy who was always there for America:
“When it was announced recently that America’s No. 1 domestic terrorist had been captured, who told us it was Justin Bieber? You did.”
“When Hurricane Katrina hit, who told us they should change the name of the Gulf of Mexico to the Persian Gulf so Bush would send troops faster? You did.”
“Let me get this – you’re moving to 9 o’clock?”
After the break, Crystal and some dancers in lederhosen and dirndl skirts called the Shut Your Von Trapp Singers sang “So Long Farewell” — NBC’s favorite musical — as one celebrity guest after another walked out onstage to take a verse:
- Kim Kardashian: “So long, farewell, last night I told my folks, ‘Now I won’t be butt of Leno’s jokes’.”
- Sheryl Crow: “So long, farewell, I give a little wave. But not for Jay – I want to get on Dave.”
- Chris Paul: “So long, farewell, you won the latenight race. But I don’t care, the Clips are in first place.”
- The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons: “So long, farewell, we’ve watched you and we’re weary. Your great success is called The Big Chin Theory.”
- Carol Burnett: “So long, farewell. I’m here so what the hell. For your last show, I’ll do the Tarzan Yell. Aiaiaiaiaia!”
- Oprah Winfrey: “So long, farewell, you really raised the bar. If you were me, you’d buy them all a car!”
“Boy this is the hard part,” Leno said, choking up as the show wound down. “I want to thank you — the audience. You folks have been just incredibly loyal and — this is tricky. Oh,” he said, beginning to weep. “We wouldn’t be on the air without you people. Secondly, this has been the greatest 22 years of my life.” He started to openly cry. “I am the luckiest guy in the world. I got to meet presidents and astronauts and movie stars. It’s just been incredible.”
“I’ll tell you something,” he said through tears. “The first year of this show, I lost my mom. The second year, I lost my dad. Then my brother died. After that I was pretty much out of family, and the folks here became my family. Consequently, when they went through rough times, I tried to be there for them.”
“People say to me, ‘Why didn’t you go to ABC, to Fox?’ I don’t know anybody over there. These are the only people I have ever known. I’m also proud to say, this is a union show. I have never worked with a more professional group of people in my life. They get paid good money and they do a good job.”
“I’m really excited for Jimmy Fallon,” Leno concluded. “It’s fun to be the old guy and see where the next generation takes this great institution. I’m so glad I got to be a part of it, but it really is time to go and hand it to the next guy. And, in conclusion, I want to quote Johnny Carson: “I bid you all a heartfelt good night.”
Brooks played the show out with “Friends In Low Places.”
Here’s Leno’s emotional final speech: