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David Letterman

"We've done over 2000 shows. You do that many shows, some are gonna suck, some are gonna eat, and some are just gonna blow."

David Letterman began his career in broadcasting in Indianapolis, Indiana, working as a weekend weatherman. In 1975, he moved to Los Angeles and wrote comedy, appearing on Mary Tyler Moore, The Gong Show, and $20,000 Pyramid. His stand-up routines alongside Jay Leno led to a 1978 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and ultimately Letterman's flagship broadcast, Late Night with David Letterman.

When Johnny Carson retired in 1991, Letterman was astonished to learn the career he'd been eyeing his entire life had been handed over to Jay Leno. To this day, The Tonight Show and Late Night continue to steal bits from each other, but working for Late Night is universally heralded as a comedian's dream job, inspiring an incestuous group of writers and producers who share material across Conan O'Brien, Craig Kilborn, The Onion, The Simpsons, and The Daily Show.
In one classic bit from 1993, Dave takes a part-time job at McDonald's and harasses drive-thru customers.

CUSTOMER:
Hi. Can I have two cheeseburgers and a small order of fries.

LETTERMAN:
You know, ma'am, we're really busy. Can I
ask you to circle the lot once or twice so we can kind of collect ourselves here? If you don't mind, it would really help us out a lot. We're just up to our necks here.

CUSTOMER:
Who is this?

LETTERMAN:
None of your business. Just circle the lot and we'll pick you up the next time, all right? Circle the lot.

The car takes off and circles the lot. Later he gets a job at Taco Bell, announcing that meals for Mexicans are half price.

It's remarkable how little is known about David Letterman's personal life. Often people extract what they can from stray cameos in movies like Chris Elliot's Cabin Boy, where he played a sarcastic villager who calls Chris Elliot "Jennifer". In films like Man On The Moon and Private Parts, Letterman prefers to appear as himself. To this day he remains intensely private, but periodically leaks information during polite, intimate interviews. He has a fondness for old British films - actress Myrna Loy in particular - and tales of unrequited love. The original versions of Goodbye, Mr. Chips and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir reduce him to tears. Beavis and Butthead makes him howl with laughter.

He did have an extended relationship with comedy writer and television producer Merrill Markoe. But instead of working on the show and returning home at the end of the day to live some kind of life, they continued working on the show. This led to friction.

"Every day at work was a fistfight," recalls Dave. "Every night at home was a fistfight. Figuratively speaking."

Merrill moved all the way to New York for Dave, then later moved back to California for herself.
For a short while, Letterman had a drinking problem. He grew uncomfortable around other people unless he was fall-down drunk. He smoked pot for six months. Dave remembers one night in particular when he smoked a joint. He went downstairs and ended up devouring two pints of Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Then he promptly went to bed. An hour later, he was awakened by a "startling thump" in his chest, and he genuinely believed his heart had stopped. The next afternoon at the cardiologist, he admitted smoking pot, but didn't mention the ice cream.

Dave monitors his weight carefully. When he moved to New York, he weighed 173 pounds. His sophomore year in college, he weighed 153. In 1994, he was shocked to learn he weighed 210. He took steps to slenderize, but it was a difficult process. America watched his appearance change over the course of many broadcasts. In January of 2000 David Letterman underwent quintuple bypass surgery, and some say his attitude softened after surgery. But he continues to appreciate fast cars. He's been awarded numerous speeding tickets while en route from Connecticut to New York. Howard Stern likes to give him a hard time about that.

STERN
You don't have a driver?

LETTERMAN
No, I don't have a driver.

STERN
That's the whole thing. Dave likes to drive his own car. Dave, look at me. I want some eye contact.

LETTERMAN
I have to look at you?

STERN
Yeah, you have to look at me.

LETTERMAN
Oh, Howard
.

Stern appeared on Late Night in gold, glittery drag, further reducing the need for intimate eye contact.



Dave's acerbic, potentially explosive interviews with guests were the precursor to Howard Stern's regular dispatch of Stuttering John - and it didn't always win him friends. At times the show proceeded with the pace of an improvisational train wreck. Cher called him an asshole. During a July 1987 appearance, actor/auteur Crispin Glover stumbled on stage wearing a disturbing wig. Glover clutched a portfolio of eye diseases and made a half-hearted effort to kick Letterman in the head.

One of the more remarkable happenings on Late Night was a guest appearance by actress Drew Barrymore, who wished Dave a happy birthday by performing an impromptu go-go dance on his desk and flashing her tits. Dave's stunned response: "I can't thank you enough for that."

Margaret Ray was a Connecticut woman with a long history of mental illness and a rap sheet dating back to 1988. She wrote Dave a letter every day for six years. She showered him with flowers, cookies, and empty Jack Daniels bottles.

"Sometimes three or four letters a day. And you can see, when she's on medication she makes sense. She's an intelligent woman; she just happens to be insane. When she goes off the medication, you get reams of scrawl -- literally, scrawl."

Then she began circling in all the regular stalking patterns: breaking into his home, puttering around in his tool shed and sleeping in his tennis courts. She stole his Porsche, and when she found herself unable to pay the $3 toll near the Lincoln Tunnel in New York, she was arrested. Ray identified herself as Letterman's wife and the mother of their (nonexistent) child. "I love him and want to spend the rest of my life with him," she said from jail. She spent 10 months in prison and 14 months in a mental institution.

"The thing is, she's insane," Letterman told a Connecticut newspaper in 1992. "And you don't want to do anything to make it worse than it is."

But he poked fun at her regularly. Top Ten things to do before switching to CBS? Send change-of-address forms to that woman who breaks into my house.

Ray would be arrested seven more times for Letterman-related antics before shifting the focus of her adoration to retired astronaut Story Musgrave. She banged on his front door at 5:30 in the morning, and then went around the house turning on all the water faucets. Weeks later, Margaret Ray committed suicide by kneeling in front of a train in Colorado.

Letterman's only comment: "This is a sad end to a confused life."

Besides Margaret Ray, up to fifty other women have been known to think Letterman speaks directly to them through the blue glow of their television. Some wait for Dave outside the studio, others at his home. One even managed to throw him up against a wall for a prolonged make-out session. Less than a month after Ray's death, Letterman would have a new stalker: Nellie Ruth Shirley, age 39. She was ordered to stay away.

Hear what Dave had to say about the World Trade Center attacks.

Timeline

12 Apr 1947 David Letterman born, Broad Ripple, Indianapolis IN. "When David Letterman was born, there was a star in the East: Me." Milton Berle.
1965 Graduates Broad Ripple High School.
1969 B.A. in Telecommunications, Ball State University.
1969 Marries Michelle Cook.
1975 Moves to Los Angeles.
1977 David and wife Michelle divorce.
1978 Becomes a regular guest host on The Tonight Show.
23 Jun 1980 Daytime talk show, The David Letterman Show.
1 Feb 1982 Late Night with David Letterman, on NBC.
1988 Stalker Margaret Ray arrested for driving Dave's Porsche. She claimed to be Mrs. Letterman.
1 Jun 1989 Stalker Margaret Ray pleads guilty to breaking and entering Letterman's house.
30 Aug 1993 The Late Show with David Letterman, on CBS.
1 Oct 1993 A seven minute segment by comedian Bill Hicks is banned in its entirety by CBS censors. But Hicks' name was mentioned at the top of the show, and his material was approved by Letterman's people ahead of time.
1995 Hosts the Oscars.
5 Oct 1998 Stalker Margaret Ray, age 46 commits suicide by kneeling in front of a train, Hotchkiss, CO.
28 Sep 1998 Nellie Ruth Shirley arrested for trespassing on Letterman's estate in New Canaan CT.
Jan 2000 Undergoes quintuple heart bypass surgery.
18 Sep 2001 Letterman is the first of the late night talk show hosts to return to the air after the World Trade Center attacks. Does not deliver opening monologue or top ten list. Sings "America the Beautiful" with Dan Rather and Regis Philbin.
1 Apr 2003 Letterman returns from 30 days absence due to Shingles. "Welcome to the program. My name is Dave and I am back from my annual bypass."
12 Sep 2003 Letterman announces on the show that his girlfriend, Regina Lasko, is pregnant. "I have an announcement to make and I'll be honest with you.... I'm a little bit nervous. I have some trepidations about this. I feel a little silly because it's one of those things where I thought never in my life this would happen. And here I am, 56, and by all rights it shouldn't be happening. But, there's nothing we can do about it now. And I'm terribly excited about this. I'm scared silly about this. I'm going to be a father." Later in show, Letterman says "By the time the child has trouble in life, you know, Iíll be dead. Iíll be long gone. By the time the kidís out stealing cars, you know, Dad will be dead a few years."
3 Nov 2003 Regina Lasko gives birth to Letterman's Son, Harry Joseph Letterman, named for Letterman's father, who died at 57. (Letterman himself is 56 at this time.) 9 pounds, 11 ounces. "I could never imagine being a part of something that turned out this beautiful...So God bless dad and God bless Harry." says Letterman on his show.


Dave at Taco Bell
Dave at McDonald's


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