7 Emotional Moments That Showed Letterman’s Soft Side

The Late Show with David Letterman
John Paul Filo/CBS/Getty Images
NEW YORK - MAY 20: David Letterman hosts his final broadcast of the Late Show with David Letterman, Wednesday May 20, 2015 on the CBS Television Network. After 33 years in late night television, 6,028 broadcasts, nearly 20,000 total guest appearances, 16 Emmy Awards and more than 4,600 career Top Ten Lists, David Letterman says goodbye to late night television audiences. The show was taped Wednesday at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York. (Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images)

As we head into the home stretch of David Letterman’s last shows, it’s hard not to get a little misty-eyed with all the tributes and final performances and appearances from Late Show favorites. Then again, if you’re a lifelong Letterman fan, getting a little lump in your throat thanks to the legendary talk show host is nothing new. Sure, Letterman has a reputation as being cantankerous (he’s hardly of the sunny, celeb-worshipping Jimmy Fallon-variety host), but that doesn’t mean the guy doesn’t have a soft side. In fact, he’s gotten deeply personal and surprisingly emotional during his run on The Late Show.

While Letterman has made us laugh plenty over the years, he’s also moved us, too. Here are his nine most candid moments on The Late Show.

Letterman’s First Show After 9/11


Nearly 14 years later, the pain, anguish, and sorrow expressed by David Letterman during his first show after the September 11 attacks still feel as raw as ever. His monologue set the precedent for how talk show hosts, particularly comedy hosts, should handle such a situation. He balanced trying to lighten the mood with honesty about the sadness, anger, and especially hope that he and the city felt during those dark days. Letterman found the words that so many couldn’t at the time, and his tribute to the NYPD and the FDNY drew tears when we weren’t sure we even had any left.

Letterman Pays Tribute to Robin Williams

The 2014 death of Robin Williams was a shock, and Letterman took 10 minutes of his show to reflect on being a colleague and friend of the legendary star. Despite his visible sadness, Letterman kept his composure as he painted, though storytelling as well as clips from Williams’ visits to the show, a vivid, heartfelt picture of the actor-comedian.

Letterman Returns After His Quintuple Bypass Surgery


After his emergency heart surgery back in 2000, Letterman returned to The Late Show to thunderous applause and a hero’s welcome.  (Even his pal Jerry Seinfeld stopped by during his opening monologue to crack, “I thought you were dead!”) Letterman candidly chatted about his health scare and made sure to give the credit to the doctors and nurses who performed the surgery. Yes, he was back to his usual crotchety self, but not without gratitude for the people that helped get him back on that stage.

Whenever His Mom Dorothy Called or Visited

David Letterman loves his mother, Dorothy Mengering, and made her a Late Show star in her own right. Whenever the host had her on around the holidays, it showed that not only did he come from a loving household, but he knew he wouldn’t be where he was without her. Dorothy was always hilarious in her own right during her appearances and their sweet, caring relationship definitely pulled at the heartstrings every single time.

Letterman’s Family Ties to the Foo Fighters


After a weeklong residency on The Late Show in 2014, the Foo Fighters played “Miracle,” a song that has a deep, personal connection for Letterman. We’ll let him explain why the tune means so much to him, just get the tissues ready.

Jack Hanna Says Farewell


As a regular guest, “Jungle” Jack Hanna became part of the show’s fabric. He and Letterman had a hilarious rapport, but it the animal wrangler’s final appearance was tear-filled as he said goodbye to The Late Show.

Darlene Love Concludes a Holiday Tradition


Christmas just won’t be Christmas this year without Darlene Love’s annual performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on The Late Show. For nearly 30 years, the singer stopped by to serenade Letterman with the holiday classic; her final appearance in 2014 hit a powerful, perfect note.