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Here’s what happened the moment David Letterman announced his retirement (transcript + video)

David Letterman. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
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David Letterman didn’t surprise everyone with the news at the network upfronts like Johnny Carson did, or deliver the news in a press release like Jay Leno. Letterman, the longest-reigning late-night host in TV history, announced his retirement after 32 years on his own terms. Here’s the transcript Letterman breaking the news during Thursday’s taping of “The Late Show,” along with the video:

David Letterman: Earlier today, the man who owns this network, Leslie Moonves — he and I have had a relationship for years and years and years — and we have had this conversation in the past, and we agreed that we would work together on this circumstance and the timing of this circumstance. And I phoned him just before the program, and I said, “Leslie, it’s been great, you’ve been great, the network has been great, but I’m retiring.”

Paul Shaffer: This is – really?

Letterman: Yep.

Shaffer: This is – this is –you actually did this?

Letterman: Yes, I did.

(Dead silence in the studio followed by nervous laughter from the crowd)

Shaffer: Well — do I have a minute to call my accountant, because … I, uh…

(Dave cracks up)

Letterman: 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 the people on the staff, everybody at home. Thank you very much. And what this means now, is that Paul and I can be married.

(Uproarious laughter and applause as wedding chimes play.)

Letterman: So we don’t have the timing of this precisely down, I think it will be at least a year or so. But sometime in the not too distant future – 2015 for the love of God, in fact, Paul and I will be wrapping things up and taking a hike.

(Studio audience goes wild, gives him a standing ovation)

Letterman: Thank you, thanks everybody. All right, thanks very much.


David Letterman: 2012 Kennedy Center Honors profile

GALLERY: David Letterman’s late shows