Twenty-three years ago today, Johnny Carson signed off from The Tonight Show for the final time. It was 1992 and he bid us all “a very heartfelt good night” and just like that he was gone.
I was 26 years old when Johnny said good-bye and I knew I was witnessing history, but I also knew that life would go on without Ed McMahon’s catch-phrase, “Heeeerrrreee’s Johnny!!” introducing the television legend at 11:30 every night.
Life went on, a watered-down version of “The Tonight Show” went on — with a far-less enigmatic and un-charismatic Jay Leno at the helm — and the torch of late night television was passed to David Letterman.
The King was dead (well gone); Long live the King.
On Wednesday, The King stepped down — David Letterman signed off, saying, “All right. That’s pretty much all I got. For the last time on a television program, thank you, and good night.”
No, Dave, thank you.
On Thursday night, CBS carried a rerun of “The Mentalist” — and that’s when it hit me.
David Letterman is gone.
Gone with him, is another piece of my youth, my past, my history.
In the summer before my freshman year in high school, David Letterman appeared before me on a morning television show.
From that day forward, he remained a part of my life; somebody who was always there for me when I needed to check my brain late at night and be entertained.
I don’t need to go into how he changed late night television — history has done that on its own — but Top 10 lists, Stupid Pet Tricks, Will It Float? all became part of my own personal water cooler discussions of my youth.
And now it’s gone.
I look at it far differently than Johnny’s good-bye simply because losing Dave feels like a younger part of me has gone away, fading away the same way Letterman did as his last showed faded to black.
Television, like music, is a time and place locked in my history. I remember watching “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company.” I remember watching shows ranging from “M*A*S*H” to “Facts of Life.” I remember being enthralled by shows like “Hill Street Blues” and “The Sopranos” — and each show brings me back to a part of my life.
David Letterman’s career covered three decades of my life.
And now he’s gone, so is a another part of my past and my history.
That pretty much leaves “Saturday Night Live” and “60 Minutes” as the last two shows that have been with me for as long as I can remember.
It feels like every day I find another reason to hate getting older and on Wednesday as the “Foo Fighters” played behind a montage of classic photos that covered the Letterman Era, I found another reason to hate my aging process.
Time passes, life goes on, and the losses mount up.
Just like when Johnny exited stage left, life goes on.
This time, though, it feels different.
I feel the change.
And I hate it.