BURBANK, Calif. -- Johnny Carson went out Friday much as he began his nearly 30-year career as host of 'The Tonight Show' -- with a bit of nervousness and a lot of humility.
In his final performance, Carson was low-key and often teary-eyed as he played a sort of video diary of some of the wide array of guests he has had on more than 4,500 shows.
The show opened with still images and audio from his first show on Oct. 1, 1962, in which he admitted his opening-night jitters, saying 'I want my nanna.'
'This show tonight is our farewell show. It's going to be a little quieter,' Carson told the audience in his final monologue.
'One of the questions people have been asking me, especially this last month, is 'What's it like doing 'The Tonight Show' and what does it mean to me.'
'Well, let me try to explain it. If I could magically somehow, that tape you just saw, make it run backwards, I would like to do the whole thing over again. It's been a hell of a lot of fun.'
But Carson told the audience to look on the bright side.
'You won't have to read or hear one more story about my leaving this show,' he said, praising and thanking the news media for their efforts.
'But my God, the Soviet Union's end did not get this kind of publicity.'
While the focus of the night was Carson's farewell, he did not overlook the chance for one more topical jab in the monologue.
He said that in light of Vice President Dan Quayle's criticism this week of the TV show 'Murphy Brown' for glamorizing single motherhood, 'I'm going to join the cast of 'Murphy Brown' and become surrogate father to that kid.'
He also thanked Quayle for making his final week 'so fruitful.'
In addition to the expected acknowledgements of his longtime cohorts, Ed McMahon and bandleader Doc Severinsen, Carson also took time to thank his family.
To his sons, Chris and Cory, he said that he realized being the son of a celebrity is not easy.
'So guys, I want you to know that I love you. I hope that your old man has not caused you too much discomfort.'
Carson added that it would have been 'a perfect evening' if his son Rick, killed last year in a car accident, had been there.
'But I guess life does what it is supposed to do.'
Carson spent little time behind his trademark desk, perferring instead to perch on a stool center stage.
Unlike his anniversary shows over the years, the old clips he chose were snippets of conversation and music, not the usual sketches and embarrasing moments, such as the famous Ed Ames tomahawk throw.
The clips represented the spectrum of guests he has brought to Studio One in Burbank from Richard Nixon, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan and Sen. Robert Kennedy, to Jack Benny, James Stewart and Bette Davis. The musical guests ran the gamut from Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra to violinist Itzak Perlman and Joe Cocker.
In his brief remarks with McMahon and Severinsen, Carson praised McMahon as 'a rock' for his 30 years announcing the show and 34 years as Carson's friend, a comment that was met with a rousing 'Heyoohh' from the audience.
McMahon confessed that he only learned last week that he was chosen from a field of seven candidates for the job and said, 'Thank you, sir. '
Of Severensin and the NBC Orchestra, Carson said, 'There has never been a better trumpet player and TV is losing the last great swing band. To say that this band is not hip is to not know the meaning of the word hip. Young and hip are not synonymous.'
Severinsen said he would particularly miss the show about the same time each evening that he has become accustomed to leading the band in 'The Tonight Show' theme for Carson's entrance.
'I wonder if once a week you would come out to my house and come out from behind a living room curtain,' he asked.
Carson also paid tribute to the staff and crew, many of whom have been with the show for years and will be out of a job when the Jay Leno regime takes over next week.
One video segment that might have been campy on any other night took on the aura of a documentary as it chronicled the daily production of the show.
Earlier in the show, Carson said he had 'not really made any plans' for his future.
But in closing the show, he alluded to the possiblity that he'll 'be right back.'
'I'm one of the lucky people of the world. I found something I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it.
'You people watching, I can only tell you it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you. And I hope that when I find something that I want to do and I think you will like and I come back that you will be as gracious in inviting me into your homes as you have been.
'I bid you a very heartfelt goodnight,' he said, his voice cracking with emotion.