More than two decades after taking over from the great Johnny Carson, the 63-year-old comedian said his (final) goodbye to the Tonight Show, with Jimmy Fallon due to replace him on Feb. 17.
On hand to help was Billy Crystal, Leno's first-ever guest when he started back in 1992. Oprah Winfrey, Carol Burnett, Kim Kardashian, Jack Black and musical guest Garth Brooks also made appearances.
“You were handed the baton by one of the all-time greats. But once it was in your grasp, you ran the race,” Crystal said.
Though Leno told 60 Minutes last month that NBC had essentially forced him out, he left his audience with a humble and grateful final monologue. He described losing his parents and brother during his first years on the show.
"After that, I was pretty much out of family, and the folks here became my family," Leno said, choking up. "Consequently, when they went through hard times, I tried to be here for them. People say, 'Why don't you go to ABC or Fox?' But I didn't know anybody over there. These are the people I know."
"It's fun to kind of be the old guy and sit back here and see where the next generation takes this great institution," he added. "It really is time to go and hand it off to the next guy. It really is."
Leno also got a few social media shout outs from friends, guests and competitors.
Issues aside, 20 years at #1 is a remarkable achievement. Congratulations and best wishes to @jayleno on an incredible run— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) February 6, 2014
Goodnight, Jay.— Late Show (@LateShow) February 7, 2014
[NBC News, NY Times]