David Letterman

David Letterman
David Letterman

Letterman performing on his show in June 2011.
Pseudonym Earl Hofert
Born April 12, 1947 (1947-04-12) (age 64)
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.[1]
Medium Stand-up, talk show
Nationality American
Years active 1974–present
Genres Observational comedy, surreal humor, deadpan
Subject(s) Self-deprecation, everyday life
Influences Steve Allen,[citation needed] Johnny Carson,[2] Jack Paar,[citation needed] Paul Dixon[3]
Spouse Michelle Cook (1969–1977)
Regina Lasko (2009–present)
Domestic partner(s) Regina Lasko (1986-2009)
Notable works and roles Host of Late Night with David Letterman (NBC)
Host of Late Show with David Letterman (CBS)
Signature David Letterman Autograph.svg
Website CBS.com/latenight/lateshow
Emmy Awards
Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Variety Series
1981 The David Letterman Show
Outstanding Individual Achievement — Writers
1981 The David Letterman Show
Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program
1984 Late Night with David Letterman
1985 Late Night with David Letterman
1986 Late Night with David Letterman
1987 Late Night with David Letterman
Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
1994 Late Show with David Letterman
American Comedy Awards
Funniest Male Performer in a TV Special (Leading or Supporting) Network, Cable or Syndication
1989 Late Night with David Letterman
1995 Late Show with David Letterman: Video Special
Funniest Male Performer in a TV Series (Leading Role) Network, Cable or Syndication
1994 Late Show with David Letterman
2001 Late Show with David Letterman

David Michael Letterman (born April 12, 1947) is an American television host and comedian.[1] He hosts the late night television talk show, Late Show with David Letterman broadcast on CBS. Letterman has been a fixture on late night television since the 1982 debut of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC. Only Letterman's friend and mentor Johnny Carson has had a longer late-night hosting career in the United States.[4]

Letterman is also a television and film producer. His company Worldwide Pants produces his show as well as its network follow-up The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Worldwide Pants has also produced several prime-time comedies, the most successful of which was Everybody Loves Raymond, currently in syndication.

In 1996, David Letterman was ranked #45 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.[5]


Early life and career

Letterman was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. His father, Harry Joseph Letterman (April 1915 – February 1973),[6] was a florist of British descent; his mother Dorothy Letterman (née Hofert, now Dorothy Mengering), a Presbyterian church secretary of German descent, is an occasional figure on the show, usually at holidays and birthdays.

Letterman lived on the north side of Indianapolis (Broad Ripple area), not far from Speedway, IN, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and he enjoyed collecting model cars, including racers.[7] 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.[8] The elder Letterman died of a second heart attack[9] at age 57.

Letterman attended his hometown's Broad Ripple High School at the same time as Marilyn Tucker Quayle (wife of the former Vice President) and worked as a stock boy at the local Atlas supermarket.[10] According to the Ball State Daily News, he originally had wanted to attend Indiana University, but his grades weren't good enough, so he decided to attend Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana.[11] He is a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity, and he graduated from what was then the Department of Radio and Television, in 1969. A self-described average student, Letterman endowed a scholarship for what he called "C students" at Ball State.[12]

Though he registered for the draft and passed his physical after graduating from college, he was not drafted for service in Vietnam due to receiving a draft lottery number of 352 (out of 365).[13]

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.[14] He was fired for treating classical music with irreverence.[14]

Letterman then became involved with the founding of another campus station—WAGO-AM 570 (now WWHI, 91.3).[15]

Letterman credits Paul Dixon—host of the Paul Dixon Show, a Cincinnati-based talk show also shown in Indianapolis while Letterman was growing up—for inspiring his choice of career:[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 (now called WTHR) as a local 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."[16] 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.[17] ("From space you can see the border between Indiana and Ohio has been erased. I'm not in favor of this.") 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),[18] and hosted a talk show that aired early on Saturday mornings called "Clover Power,"[19] in which he interviewed 4-H members about their projects.[20]

In 1971, Letterman appeared as a pit road reporter for ABC Sports' tape-delayed coverage of the Indianapolis 500.[21] David is initially introduced as Chris Economaki in his job as a corner reporter. He interviews Mario Andretti who has just crashed out of the race and asks him a question about traffic on the course.

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.[22] He started off by writing material for comedian Jimmie Walker[23]. He also began performing stand-up comedy at The Comedy Store, a proving ground for unknown comics.

Letterman appeared in the summer of 1977 on the short-lived Starland Vocal Band Show[24]. He has since joked[when?] about how fortunate he was that nobody would ever see his performance on the program (due to its low ratings).

Letterman had a stint as a cast member on Mary Tyler Moore's variety show, Mary[25]; a guest appearance on Mork & Mindy (as a parody of EST leader Werner Erhard[26]); and appearances on game shows such as The $20,000 Pyramid[27], The Gong Show, Password Plus[28] and Liar's Club. He also hosted a 1977 pilot for a game show entitled The Riddlers[29][30] that was never picked up.[citation needed] He was also screen tested for the lead role in Airplane!, a role that eventually went to Robert Hays.[31]

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's and was a regular guest host for the show beginning in 1978. Letterman credits Carson as the person who influenced his career the most.[2]


Letterman at the 38th Primetime Emmy Awards in 1986

Morning show

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.[32] 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. 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 when Friday Night Videos ended). 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 '60s programs of Steve Allen.[33] Although Ernie Kovacs is often cited as an influence on the show,[34] Letterman has denied this.[2]

The show often featured quirky, genre-mocking regular features, including "Stupid Pet Tricks[35]", dropping various objects off the roof of a five-story building[36], demonstrations of unorthodox clothing (such as suits made of Alka-Seltzer[37], Velcro[38] and suet), a recurring Top 10 list, the Monkey-Cam[39] (and the Audience Cam), and a facetious letter-answering segment[40]. The Top 10 list, several "Film[s] by My Dog Bob" in which a camera was mounted on Letterman's own dog[41] (often with comic results), Stupid Human Tricks[42], Small Town News[43], and Stupid Pet Tricks[44] (which had its origins on Letterman's morning show) all eventually moved 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 president while not wearing any pants; interrupting Al Roker on WNBC-TV's broadcast of Live at Five by walking into their studio (which occupied the same floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza as Letterman's studio); 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 to be slapped and knocked to the ground by professional wrestler Jerry Lawler (though Lawler and Kaufman's friend Bob Zmuda later revealed that the event was staged.)[45] In another memorable exchange, sex expert Dr. Ruth Westheimer included cucumbers in a list of handy sex objects that women could find at home. The following night, guest Ted Koppel asked Letterman "May I insert something here?" and Dave responded "OK, as long as it's not a cucumber."[citation needed]

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 taped his eponymous variety series from 1948 to 1971. For Letterman's arrival, CBS spent $14 million in renovations. In addition to that cost, CBS also signed Letterman to a lucrative three-year, $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 $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 sneakers wardrobe combination in favor of expensive shoes and tailored suits. The monologue was lengthened and 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.)


The main competitor of The Late Show is NBC's The Tonight Show, which was hosted by Jay Leno for nearly 16 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 Tonight. But in 1995, ratings dipped and Leno's show consistently beat Letterman's in the ratings; Leno typically attracted about 5 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.[46] 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.[47] Once O'Brien took over Tonight, however, Letterman closed the gap in the ratings.[48][49][50] 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.[51]

Following Leno's return to The Tonight Show, however, Leno has regained his lead.[52]

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 1993–2009, Letterman ranked higher than Leno in the annual Harris Poll of Nation's Favorite TV Personality 12 times.[53] For example, in 2003 and 2004 Letterman ranked second in that poll, behind only Oprah Winfrey, a year that Leno was ranked fifth.[54] Leno was higher than Letterman on that poll three times during the same period, in 1998, 2007, and 2008.[53]

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 similar joke by Woody Allen), he started off by introducing Uma Thurman to Oprah Winfrey, and then the 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.[55]

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 it was rumored in 2008 that they had asked him to host the Oscars again.[56] On September 7, 2010, he made an appearance on the premier 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.[57]

During the initial weeks of his recovery, reruns of the Late Show were shown and introduced by friends of Letterman including Drew Barrymore,[50] Ray Romano, Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Megan Mullally, Bill Murray, Regis Philbin, Charles Grodin, Nathan Lane, Julia Roberts,[50] Bruce Willis, Jerry Seinfeld, Martin Short, Steven Seagal, Hillary Rodham 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 (recommended by Regis Philbin, who was asked first but had no time in his schedule), Dana Carvey, Janeane Garofalo, and others to host new episodes of The Late Show. Cosby—the show's first guest host—refused to sit at Letterman's desk out of respect, using the couch instead; Garofalo followed suit, utilizing a set of grade-school desks instead.

Upon his return to the show on February 21, 2000, Letterman brought all 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!"),[58] 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 Dave'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.' "[4]

Additionally, Letterman invited the band Foo Fighters to play "Everlong",[59] introducing them as "my favorite band, playing my favorite song."[60] 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, 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.[61]

Re-signing with CBS

Letterman hosting President Barack Obama at Late Show with David Letterman, September 2009

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.[62] 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 The 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."[63] 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.'"[64]

According to a 2007 article in Forbes magazine, Letterman earned $40 million a year.[65] A 2009 article in The New York Times, however, said his salary was estimated at $32 million per year.[66] 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.[66] Worldwide Pants agreed to lower its fee for the show, though it had remained a "solid moneymaker for CBS" under the previous contract.[66]

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."[67]

2007–2008 writers' strike

The 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,[68] 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.[69] His beard was shaved off during the show on January 7, 2008.

Letterman and Carson

NBC's decision to select Jay Leno and not Letterman to succeed Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show was an embarrassment to Carson, who had all but promised the succession to Letterman.[70] 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 New York Times reporter Bill Carter, chronicling the battle between Letterman and Leno for the coveted Tonight Show hosting spot. Letterman would mock the film for months afterward, specifically on how the actor playing him, John Michael Higgins, did not resemble him in the least.[citation needed] ("They took a guy who looked nothing like me and with make-up and special camera angles, turned him into a guy who looked nothing like me, with red hair.")[citation needed]

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. The audience went wild as Letterman stood up and proudly invited Carson to sit at his desk. The applause was so protracted that Carson was unable to say anything, and he finally returned backstage as the applause continued (it was later explained that Carson had laryngitis, though Carson can be heard talking to Letterman during his appearance).[71]

In early 2005, it was revealed that Carson still kept up with current events and late-night TV right up to his death that year, and that he occasionally sent jokes to Letterman, who used these jokes in his monologue; according to CBS senior vice president Peter Lassally (a onetime 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."[72] Letterman also frequently employs some of Carson's trademark bits on his show, including "Carnac the Magnificent" (with Paul Shaffer as Carnac), "Stump the Band" and the "Week in Review."

Letterman and Oprah Winfrey

On September 10, 2007, Letterman made his first appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He shared pictures of his son and live-in girlfriend. The so-called feud between Letterman and Winfrey 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".[73] Winfrey had previously appeared on Letterman's show when he was hosting NBC's Late Night on May 2, 1989.

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—who tapes her show in Chicago—is in a Brian Urlacher jersey.[74] Three years later, during CBS's coverage of Super Bowl XLIV, the two appeared again, this time with Winfrey sitting on a couch between Letterman and Jay Leno. The appearance was Letterman's idea: Leno flew to New York City in 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.[75]

Response to Internet death threat

On August 17, 2011 it was reported that a Muslim 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.[76] 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."[77]

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.[78] 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.[79]

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 biopic 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 also made an uncredited appearance in the first episode of the third season of the sitcom The Nanny.

Letterman provided vocals for the Warren Zevon song "Hit Somebody" from My Ride's Here,[80] and provided the voice for Butt-head's father in the 1996 animated film Beavis and Butt-head Do America.

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.[81] Steve Mazan published a same-titled book (full title, Dying to Do Letterman: Turning Someday into Today about his own saga.[82]

Other projects

Worldwide Pants

Letterman started his own production company—Worldwide Pants Incorporated—which produced his show and several others, including Everybody Loves Raymond, The Late Late Show, and several critically acclaimed, but short-lived 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 Ed's run, 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.

Record company

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.[83][84] 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 Racing

Rahal Letterman Racing (RLR) is an auto racing team that currently races in the American Le Mans Series, and part-time in the Indy Racing League. It is co-owned by 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal and Letterman himself, and is based in Hilliard, Ohio. The team won the 2004 Indianapolis 500 with driver Buddy Rice. Letterman was a pit reporter for ABC in the 1971 Indianapolis 500.[21]

American Foundation for Courtesy and Grooming

American Foundation for Courtesy and Grooming is Letterman's private foundation. Through it, 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.

Personal life

Marriages and long-term relationships

In 1969, Letterman married Michelle Cook; the marriage ended by divorce in 1977.[85] He also had a long-term relationship with former head writer and producer on Late Night, Merrill Markoe. In fact, Markoe was the mind behind several Late Night staples, such as "Stupid Pet/Human Tricks".

Letterman has a son, Harry Joseph Letterman (born on November 3, 2003), with Regina Lasko. Harry is named after Letterman's father.[86] In 2005, police discovered a plot to kidnap Harry Letterman and ransom him for $5 million. Kelly Frank, a house painter who had worked for Letterman, was charged in the conspiracy.[87]

Letterman and Lasko, who had been together since 1986, wed on March 19, 2009, during a quiet courthouse civil ceremony in Choteau, Montana, where he purchased a ranch in 1999.[88][89][90] Letterman announced the marriage during the taping of his March 23 show, 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.[91] The family resides in North Salem, New York, on a 108-acre (44 ha) estate.[92]

Stalking incidents

Beginning in May 1988, Letterman was stalked by Margaret Mary Ray, a woman suffering from schizophrenia. She once stole his Porsche, repeatedly broke into his house, and camped out on his tennis court. Her exploits drew national attention, and Letterman occasionally joked about her behavior in his show, although never mentioning her name. After she committed suicide in 1998, Letterman told the New York Times that he had had great compassion for her,[93] and publicly expressed sympathy.[94]

Extortion attempt and revelation of affairs

On his October 1, 2009 show, Letterman announced that he had been the victim of an extortion attempt by someone threatening to reveal that he had had sex with several of his female employees, confirming the relationships.[95] 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 $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.[96] 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.[97] Eventually, on March 9, 2010, he pleaded guilty to this same felony and served a 6-month jail sentence, followed by probation and community service.[98]

A central figure in the case and one of the women Letterman had had a sexual relationship with was his longtime personal assistant Stephanie Birkitt who often appeared with him in his show. She had also worked for 48 Hours.[99] Until a month prior to the revelations she had shared a residence with Halderman,[100] who allegedly had copied her personal diary and used it, along with private emails, in the blackmail package.[101]

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.[102]

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.[103] A spokesman for Worldwide Pants said that the company's sexual harassment policy did not prohibit sexual relationships between managers and employees.[104] 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..."[105]

On October 5, 2009, Letterman devoted a segment of his show to a public apology to his wife and staff.[106][107] Three days later, Worldwide Pants announced that Birkitt had been placed on a "paid leave of absence" from the Late Show.[108] 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 Halderman's blackmail of Letterman.[109]

Awards and honors


In his capacities as either a writer, producer, performer, or as part of a writing team, Letterman is among the most nominated people in Emmy Award history with 52 nominations, winning two Daytime Emmys and five Primetime Emmys since 1981. His nomination record is second only to producer Jac Venza, who holds the record for the most Emmy nominations for an individual (57). Letterman has been nominated every year since 1984, when he first appeared on late night television as the host of Late Night with David Letterman. Additionally, he has won four American Comedy Awards. Letterman was the first recipient of the Johnny Carson Award for Comedic Excellence at The Comedy Awards in 2011.

David Letterman Communication and Media Building.

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 throughout his career as a comedian. The $21 million, 75,000-square-foot (7,000 m2) David Letterman Communication and Media Building opened for the 2007 Fall semester. It features state-of-the-art recording equipment and facilities. Thousands of Ball State students, faculty, and local residents welcomed Letterman back to Indiana.[110] 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 $21 million building, anything is possible."[111]

At the same time, Letterman also received a Sagamore of the Wabash award given by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, which recognizes distinguished service to the state of Indiana.[110]


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External links

Media offices
First Host of Late Night
Feb. 1, 1982 – June 25, 1993
Succeeded by
Conan O'Brien
First Host of The Late Show
Aug. 30, 1993 – present
Preceded by
Whoopi Goldberg
Host of the Academy Awards
Succeeded by
Whoopi Goldberg

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