There’s a lot of reasons why I’ll miss Dave Letterman. Yesterday I lamented the passing of a late night television era that wasn’t just made-for YouTube clips and regurgitated Twitter snark. I’ll miss the dumb Top 10 lists and cheesy monologue jokes. I’ll miss staying up and watching Letterman with my mom, which is an 11:30 television tradition in the Wenerd household. I’ll miss his motley bullpen of lovable sidekicks. I’ll miss his cool indifference to celebrities and pop culture. It’s almost like he accidentally ended up a celebrity and hated every second of it, as many of us would.
Letterman didn’t give a shit, which is why Letterman rules. No one in showbiz deserves a retirement more than him.
Since sharing favorite The Late Show with David Letterman moments is all the rage today, I think it’s appropriate to pay tribute to one of the most emotional moments in Letterman’s history. On October 30, 2002, the late, great American songwriter Warren Zevon stepped on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater for the very last time. Zevon was Letterman’s only guest, with Paul Schaffer playing “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” as he walked out.
A few months earlier, Zevon’s was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. A frequent guest on the show in the ’80s and ’90s, Zevon and Letterman grew incredibly close over the years, with Zevon occasionally sitting in for Paul Schaffer.
Before taking the stage to perform, Zevon opened up to Letterman about his fatal cancer diagnosis, telling Dave that “I may have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years.” Letterman asked Warren if he had any wisdom about life in the face of certain death. Zevon paused, shook his head, and took a deep breathe, uttering a poignant maxim about life and death that hits right in the feels:
“Enjoy every sandwich.”
Later in the show, Zevon performed acoustic versions of “Mutineer” and “Genius” on the piano. Then, per Dave’s request, he concluded with “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” with Paul’s band accompanying him. On a stage that has seen it all, Zevon’s thunderous final performance was one of the most emotional performances in late night television history.
I’m not sure how there was dry eye in the Ed Sullivan Theater afterwards.
After the show, Zevon allegedly gave Letterman his guitar, saying “I want you to have this, take good care of it.”
Zevon outlived his doctor’s prognosis, but 11 months later, succumbed to that bitch cancer and passed away at the age of 56. On the day the news broke, Dave remembered him and paid tribute with this moving homage, reminding the audience to, please, “enjoy every sandwich.”