Jay Leno bid farewell to the ‘Tonight Show,’ his fans and his clearly beloved colleagues in a heartfelt goodbye to close the curtain on Thursday’s show, and his NBC late-night career.
“This has been the greatest 22 years of my life,” Leno opened. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I got to meet Presidents, astronauts, movie stars.”
That is when it got really personal, and very misty eyed. “I’ll tell you something,” Leno began. “[The] first year of the show, I lost my mom. The second year, I lost my dad. Then my brother died. And after that, I was pretty much out of family. And the folks here became my family. Consequently, when they went through rough times, I tried to be there for them.”
Leno continued to praise his crew by addressing the questions about why he returned to the network and show that ousted him in favor of Conan O’Brien in 2009 — the only other time he “retired” from “The Tonight Show.”
“When people say to me, ‘Hey, why don’t you go to ABC? Why don’t you go to Fox? Why don’t you go’ — I didn’t know anybody over there,” Leno explained. “These are all the people I’ve ever known.”
Being the gracious man that Leno is, he used his final moments to prop up and praise both his successor, and his predecessor.
“I’m really excited for Jimmy Fallon,” Leno said. “You 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 continued: “And in closing, I want to quote Johnny Carson, who was the greatest guy to ever do this job. He said, ‘I bid you all a heartfelt good night.'”
Finally, Garth Brooks, one of Leno’s favorites, played him out with the appropriate “Friends in Low Places.”
While embracing Brooks and waving goodbye to the Burbank studio audience and the millions at home, Leno’s final “Tonight Show” sign-off words were a simple, “See you all later. I’m coming home, honey.”
Watch the touching goodbye: