For this evening’s final episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the host has promised a special episode. James Taylor is set to be the last musical act and Leno’s successor, Conan O’Brien, will be his final guest.
There will also be something that’s billed as “The Extreme Tonight Show Montage.” Leno teased reporters last week that, “I have something really unusual and different planned — something really out of left field that we’re going to end on.”
While we wait to see the last episode, it’s hard not to recall how Leno’s legendary predecessor, Johnny Carson, finished his run 17 years ago this month.
Carson had been considering retirement for some time, so long in fact that, when the announcement came in 1991, viewers were stunned. The final several weeks of shows were very special as guests and old friends stopped by to say farewell and beg him not to go.
The penultimate show features comedian Robin Williams and Bette Midler, two of Carson’s favorite guests. Midler finished the show with a touching and sentimental version of “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).” Carson wasn’t easily moved but he teared up on that one. Midler won an Emmy for her appearance.
For the last episode, Carson kept it simple. He chatted with sidekick Ed McMahon and bandleader Doc Severinsen, showed montages of clips, and talked to the studio audience of friends and invited guests. When it was time to say goodbye, he said a few heartfelt words while sitting alone on a stool, in a similar manner of his predecessor, Jack Paar.
He said, “And so it has come to this: I, uh, am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. I want to thank the gentlemen who’ve shared this stage with me for thirty years. Mr. Ed McMahon, Mr. Doc Severinsen, and you people watching. I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you. And I hope when I find something that I want to do and I think you would like and come back that you’ll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been. I bid you a very heartfelt good night.”
Here’s a montage from the last episode…