Born on April 12, 1947, in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Letterman's big break came when he began appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He was eventually offered his own late-night show. His humor was well suited to the late-late hour, and the show became widely popular. When NBC gave Carson's spot to Jay Leno, Letterman moved to CBS to host Late Show. In April 2014, Letterman announced his plans to retire from the show in 2015.
Early Life and Career
Television personality and talk show host David Letterman was born on April 12, 1947, in Indianapolis, Indiana, to Harry Joseph Letterman, a florist, and Dorothy, a church secretary who appeared regularly as a correspondent on his late-night talk show. He has two sisters, Janice and Gretchen.
Letterman is best known for his gap-toothed self-mockery, and his brash, wry, somewhat cynical sense of humor. His unconventional demeanor and sense of humor attracted a cult following, which has gone on to inspire countless comedians and talk show hosts who have followed him.
Letterman studied radio and television at Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana (B.A.,1969). He worked in Indianapolis as a radio talk-show host, the host of a children's program and a late-night movie show, a news anchor and as a television weatherman, where his brand of humor was already evident, if not necessarily appreciated. One night he reportedly upset his bosses when he congratulated a tropical storm on being upgraded to a hurricane.
In 1975, Letterman moved to Los Angeles and wrote material for popular sitcoms, including Good Times. His big break came when he began appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, whom he has since referred to as his mentor. In 1978, he became Carson's regular guest host, and in 1980, he was offered his own daytime show, the David Letterman Show. The show only lasted for three months, but was a critical success, and convinced NBC-TV to give the young comedian a late-night show following Carson's The Tonight Show.
'Late Night with David Letterman'
The late-late show hour was well-suited to Letterman's brash and quirky humor. Late Night with David Letterman soon became popular with a young audience by mixing the usual talk-show ingredients of celebrity guests and music with his irreverent manner and zany comic stunts.
Letterman's signature features include The Top Ten List, Stupid Pet Tricks (along with its companion, Stupid Human Tricks), Viewer Mail and pencils tossed at the camera and at the set behind him, "breaking" the non-existent glass with a cued crash sound. He is also known for his parody sketches that targeted the obviously weak acting abilities of his bandleader Paul Schaffer (and other members of The World's Most Dangerous Band), stage-hand Biff Henderson and general odd-ball Larry "Bud" Melman.
'The Tonight Show' Controversy
After NBC chose Jay Leno as the replacement for the retiring Johnny Carson in 1993 -- a position Letterman had publicly desired -- Letterman moved to CBS. He signed a lucrative deal to host The Late Show with David Letterman, which airs opposite The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He also founded his own production company, Worldwide Pants, that same year, which bought a stake in his new show.
His displeasure with NBC executives was fodder for his monologues, and when they blocked him from transferring regular features of his show to CBS (claiming it was NBC's "intellectual property") that, too, was mocked on air. The years that followed this head-to-head competition spawned a book and cable movie documenting the late-night talk show "wars." Letterman has received several Emmys for both writing and for his talk show hosting duties.
On January 14, 2000, fans were shocked to learn that Letterman underwent quintuple heart bypass surgery. In typical Letterman fashion, the recovering patient joked that "in addition to rerouting the arteries, they also installed an E-Z pass." Letterman's first post-op show aired on February 21, 2000, featuring Regis Philbin, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams (wearing medical scrubs) and eight members of the team who took care of Letterman during his stay in the hospital.
CBS' 'Late Show'
In December 2006, Letterman renewed his contract with CBS, agreeing to host The Late Show with David Letterman through the fall of 2010. In 2007, he was ranked as No. 17 on the Forbes list of richest men in the entertainment industry, making an estimated $40 million that year. In 2009, Forbes also listed Letterman as No. 14 on their list of most powerful personalities in entertainment.
The magazine cited Letterman's Peabody Award-winning company, Worldwide Pants, as one of the secrets behind his wealth and power; in addition to Letterman's show, the company has produced successful comedies such as Everybody Loves Raymond and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.
In April 2014, David Letterman announced his plans to retire in 2015, and Stephen Colbert was named as his replacement. “I just want to reiterate my thanks for the support from the network, all of the people who have worked here, all of the people in the theater, all of the people on the staff, everybody at home, thank you very much,” Letterman announced on-air to his studio audience.
Letterman is known for successfully keeping his romantic and private life under tight wraps from the media. He was married to Michele Cook from 1969-'77. He has also been romantically linked to comedienne/writer Merrill Markoe. He then began a relationship with production manager Regina Lasko in the mid '80s.
Letterman and Lasko celebrated the birth of their son in 2003, and named him after Letterman's father, Harry Joseph Letterman. On March 19, 2009, the couple wed in a private courthouse ceremony in Choteau, Montana, and Letterman announced his nuptials during the taping of his March 23rd show.
But only months later their relationship was rocked by a cheating scandal. On October 1, 2009, Letterman announced on his show that he was the victim of an extortion attempt related to his infidelity. On the same day, Robert "Joe" Halderman, a CBS News producer and boyfriend of Letterman's longtime assistant Stephanie Birkitt, was arrested for allegedly trying to extort $2 million from Letterman by threatening to expose his affair with Birkitt. In 2010 Halderman pleaded guilty to attempted grand larceny and was sentenced to six months in jail, but was released after four months.
After news of the scandal broke, Letterman also apologized to his wife on-air: “She has been horribly hurt by my behavior, and when something happens like that, if you hurt a person and it's your responsibility, you try to fix it."
The couple reconciled and now resides with their son on a 108-acre estate in North Salem, New York.
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