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David Letterman's final 'Late Show' brings emotional goodbyes, surprise guests

David Letterman's last "Late Show" aired Wednesday night, and it did not disappoint.
/ Source: TODAY

David Letterman's last "Late Show" aired Wednesday night, and it did not disappoint.

Viewers have anticipated the beloved host's final send-off since he announced plans to retire in April 2014, capping a 33-year career in late-night television. Letterman, 68, began hosting CBS' "The Late Show" in 1993, after 11 years on NBC's "Late Night with David Letterman."

The weeks leading up to Letterman's farewell featured an assortment of A-list guests wishing to pay tribute to the TV legend. Tina Fey stripped down, Julia Roberts shared a kiss with Letterman and George Clooney handcuffed himself to the host. And in the penultimate episode Tuesday, Bill Murray even jumped out of a cake.

Fellow late-night hosts have also praised Letterman's influence on their own careers. "I, like every kid who grew up watching him, will miss him," Jimmy Fallon said on "The Tonight Show" Monday.

Wednesday's show kicked off with a tongue-in-cheek message from President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton and former President George H.W. Bush, each of whom was seen proclaiming “Our long national nightmare is over" in previously taped segments.

Letterman's monologue was full of his trademark self-deprecating wit.

"It’s beginning to look like I’m not going to get the ‘Tonight Show,'” Letterman quipped, referring to NBC's decision to appoint Jay Leno rather than Letterman as Johnny Carson's successor 23 years ago.

Letterman also joked about his plans for retirement, telling viewers, "I hope to become the new face of Scientology."

He revealed that he's hosted a whopping 6,028 shows, explaining that by Stephen Hawking's calculation, that works out to "about eight minutes of laughter." He added that the "Late Show" has gone on so long that when he started, "the biggest show on television was 'Keeping Up With the Gabors.'"

A star-studded group of guests joined the host for his final top-10 list, titled, "Things I've always wanted to say to Dave."

Jerry Seinfeld dryly told Letterman, "I have no idea what I'll do when you go off the air. You know, I just thought of something — I'll be fine."

His "Seinfeld" co-star Julia Louis-Dreyfus added, "Thanks for letting me take part in another hugely disappointing series finale."

And Tina Fey drew laughs with her zinger, "Thanks for finally proving men can be funny."

Murray, who was Letterman's first "Late Night" guest in 1982, and his first on the "Late Show" in 1993, returned to deliver the No. 1 item on the list: "Dave, I'll never have the money I owe you."

Foo Fighters served as the show's last musical guest, playing "Everlong" from its 1997 album "The Colour and the Shape." Letterman said that song was particularly meaningful during his heart surgery in 2000, and recalled how the band canceled tour dates in South America to perform when he returned to the show.

Letterman gave a heartfelt thanks to his entire crew. He praised his writing staff, saying, "I've been blessed and lucky to work with men and women who are smarter than I am and funnier than I am, and I have always been interested in doing the show that the writers have given me." He added, "These people, collectively that I've just now mentioned and introduced — believe me, this is absolutely the truth — deserve more credit for this show than I ever will."

He called his longtime bandleader, Paul Shaffer, "as good a friend as you can have on television, as good a friend as you can have in life, absolutely a musical genius."

As for his wife Regina and son Harry, who were in the audience, he said, "I love you both and, really, nothing else matters, does it?"

And to viewers at home, the host said, "There's nothing I can do to ever repay you. Thank you for everything. You've given me everything."