Last night was Jay Leno’s last as host of The Tonight Show. It’s an event that gives young people cause to celebrate, people on Social Security cause to mourn and Conan fans cause to roll their eyes and wonder what if. Leno already symbolically passed the torch to Jimmy Fallon, whose first night at the helm will be Feb. 17, but last night he turned his attention to those who have made his own journey possible. It got a little misty.
Leno was weepy throughout his three-minute address to the camera, thanking the audience, the writers and everyone else who helped make the show happen over the years. He detailed how he lost his mother, father and brother within a few years of taking over the show in 1992, and how NBC and The Tonight Show became his new family. He spoke of his excitement for Jimmy Fallon and the new generation, and quoted Johnny Carson: “I bid you all a heartfelt goodbye,” choking on the final “goodbye.”
...Then he introduced Garth Brooks who played “I Got Friends In Low Places,” which was kind a weird thing to have happen, but it was a heartfelt farewell nonetheless.
Regardless of how you may feel about Leno, you can’t deny that he truly cared and that he truly loved what he did. He’s an easy guy to rip on—the denim, the cars, the chin, the high voice—and some may never forgive him for what he did to Letterman and Conan, but those were both incredibly complex situations we’ll never fully understand, and though Leno was at their center, he’s also probably gotten a little bit of a worse of a rap than he deserved. All he wanted to do was host The Tonight Show. He did it for 22 years.
Check out Leno’s farewell address and the Garth Brooks performance below. The second video is his interview with Billy Crystal, which turned into a musical number featuring Crystal, Jack Black, Kim Kardashian singing (...yes), Clippers point guard Chris Paul, Sheryl Crow, Jim Parsons, Oprah and Carol Burnett…so basically any celebrity in L.A. who had the night off.