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David Letterman offers touching tribute to longtime friend Robin Williams

David Letterman paid tribute Monday night to the late Robin Williams, with whom the “Late Show” host shared a friendship for almost four decades.

Letterman devoted a 10-minute segment to Williams, who died last week of an apparent suicide. The 63-year-old comic actor had appeared on Letterman’s shows almost 50 times.

“Two things would happen, because Robin was on the program,” Letterman told his audience. “One, I didn’t have to do anything; all I had to do was sit here and watch the machine. And, two, people would watch; if they knew Robin was on the show, the viewership would go up, because they wanted to see Robin. And, believe me, that wasn’t just true of television. I believe that was true of the kind of guy he was. People were drawn to him because of this electricity.”

Letterman said the two befriended each other 38 years ago at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, a hotbed at the time for emerging comedians, including former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, Elayne Boosler and Jimmy Walker. Letterman recalled how it was common for comics to make fun of new acts at the venue, and prepared to do the same when an emcee announced a new comedian from Scotland was about to take the stage.

“We were feeling pretty smug about our position right away, because [the material] is going to be haggis, and that kind of crap,” Letterman recalled. “So, we’re relaxed, we’re ready to go, and all of a sudden, he comes up on stage, and — you know what it is — it’s like nothing we had ever seen before, nothing we had ever imagined before.”

The comedians, he said, knew they were watching someone special.

“We’re like morning dew; he comes in like a hurricane. And now, the longer he’s onstage, the worse we feel about ourselves,” Letterman said, with a laugh, “because it’s not stopping. And then he finishes, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s it, they’re going to have to put an end to show business, because what could happen after this?’”

  • Slideshow Photos

    Anonymous / ABC

    Robin Williams, 1951-2014

    "Na-nu Na-nu" and "O Captain, my Captain": Robin Williams will best be remembered by the characters he played and lines he delivered.

  • Robin Williams, 1951-2014


    "Mork and Mindy"

    "I am Mork from Ork, na-nu na-nu." Robin Williams' breakout role was as happy alien Mork on the TV show "Mork and Mindy," a spin-off of "Happy Days." He played Mork, and is seen sitting on set here in April 1978.

    ABC via AP / ABC via AP
  • MORK & MINDY, Robin Williams, Pam Dawber, 1978-82, © Paramount Television / Courtesy: Everett Collec

    Robin Williams, 1951-2014


    Forever a funnyman

    Williams' Mork and Pam Dawber's Mindy were one of the most unlikely super-couples of the 1970s. They even eventually had a child, Mearth -- hatched from an egg laid by Mork and played by veteran funnyman Jonathan Winters.

    ©Paramount Television/Courtesy / Â©Paramount Television/Courtesy
  • DEAD POETS SOCIETY, Robin Williams, 1989

    Robin Williams, 1951-2014


    "Dead Poets Society"

    In "Dead Poets Society," Williams played English teacher John Keating, who dared his class to take risks and break out of the molds their families may have put them in. He encouraged his students to call him "O Captain! My Captain!"

    Courtesy Everett Collection / Courtesy Everett Collection
  • Image: Robin Williams In 'Mrs. Doubtfire'

    Robin Williams, 1951-2014


    "Mrs. Doubtfire"

    Robin Williams played the title role in "Mrs. Doubtfire." In a TODAY interview at the time, Robin Williams told Gene Shalit that creating his character had a lot to do with the makeup he wore. In April 2014, there were reports that Williams would reprise his role in a sequel.

    20th Century-Fox via Getty Images / 20th Century-Fox via Getty Images
  • Image: GOOD WILL HUNTING, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, 1997, (c) Miramax/courtesy Everett Collection

    Robin Williams, 1951-2014


    "Good Will Hunting"

    Williams, right, next to Matt Damon, won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1998 for his role in "Good Will Hunting."

    Miramax/Courtesy Everett Collection / Miramax/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Robin Williams, 1951-2014



    In the 1995 fantasy-adventure film "Jumanji," Williams is chased by a lion, fights off giant spiders and is sucked into quicksand-like floorboards.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Robin Williams, Ben Stiller

    Robin Williams, 1951-2014


    "Night at the Museum"

    Williams played President Teddy Roosevelt in the "Night at the Museum" trilogy. He finished shooting the third film, "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" earlier this year. It's set to be released Dec. 19.

    Twentieth Century Fox via AP / Twentieth Century Fox via AP
  • FLUBBER, Robin Williams, 1997, © Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection

    Robin Williams, 1951-2014



    In 1997's "Flubber," a remake of the 1961 Disney comedy "The Absent-Minded Professor," Williams played a professor with an ingenious, if trouble-prone, invention.

    Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection / Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
  • HOOK, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, 1991

    Robin Williams, 1951-2014



    In the 1991 Steven Spielberg movie "Hook," Williams played a lawyer who must reclaim his past as Peter Pan, with Dustin Hoffman as the menacing Captain Hook.

    TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection / TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
  • ONE HOUR PHOTO, Robin Williams, 2002, TM & Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights rese

    Robin Williams, 1951-2014


    'One Hour Photo'

    "One Hour Photo" may have been Williams' most surprising film. In the 2002 psychological thriller, the usually affable Williams portrays a disturbed photo clerk with a creepy secret.

    20th Century Fox / Courtesy Everett Collection / 20th Century Fox / Courtesy Everett Collection
  • ALADDIN, Genie, Aladdin, 1992. (c) Walt Disney/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.

    Robin Williams, 1951-2014



    "Aladdin" was the title character, but it was Williams' comic Genie who stole the show in the 1992 Disney film.

    Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection / Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection
  • GOOD MORNING VIETNAM, Robin Williams, 1987

    Robin Williams, 1951-2014


    'Good Morning Vietnam'

    The DJ Williams played in 1987's "Good Morning Vietnam" was based on a real Vietnam War soldier, but much of Williams' radio banter in the film was improvised by the actor himself.

    Touchstone Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection / Touchstone Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
  • Robin Williams, 1951-2014


    'The Crazy Ones'

    Williams starred with Sarah Michelle Gellar on the sitcom "The Crazy Ones," which ran from 2013-2014 before being canceled. Williams played an eccentric ad executive and Gellar his daughter.

    AP / AP
  • Robin Williams, 1951-2014



    Williams was strong to the finish, 'cause he eats his spinach, when he played the iconic comic-strip tough-guy in the 1980 big-screen version of "Popeye."

    AP / AP

Williams later landed a leading role on ABC’s “Mork & Mindy,” propelling him to national stardom. Soon thereafter, he invited Letterman to appear on that show.

“Now, this is a double-edged sword, because he did it only because he was trying to help other fledgling, starting-out comics,” Letterman said. “The other side of the sword is I had no business being on that show. I can’t — I have no business being on this show. ... So, even to the detriment of the [‘Mork & Mindy’] show, Robin was kind enough to invite me to come on, because he thought, ‘Why can’t I spread this around and have some of my friends share in my success?’ — which is exactly what he did.”

Letterman said he really didn’t get to know Williams until Letterman started hosting “Late Night” on NBC in 1982. Seven years after Letterman’s 1993 move to CBS, the host took leave for heart surgery, and, upon his return, was greeted on-air by Williams, sporting medical scrubs and a surgical mask.

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t see this at the surgery?” said Williams, removing the mask and pretending to lean over an operating table. “‘Hey, Dave, it’s me! They just thought it’d be real funny!’”

Late-night hosts pay tribute to Robin Williams

Letterman’s tribute also included clips of Williams’ quips, stage antics and boisterous laughter beside an equally amused Letterman.

After the montage, the host appeared to be choked up. “Beyond being a very talented man and a good friend and a gentleman, I’m sorry, like everyone else,” he said. “I had no idea that the man was in pain, that the man was suffering. But what a guy, Robin Williams.”

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