David Letterman Tributes: Jimmy Fallon Chokes Up, Eddie Vedder Performs “Better Man”

David Letterman
Eddie Vedder and Jimmy Fallon paid tribute to David Letterman on Monday evening.  BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages

A proper send-off. David Letterman hosted one of his last episodes of the Late Show on Monday, May 18, inspiring tributes from Jimmy Fallon and Eddie Vedder

The Tonight Show host Fallon, 40, nodded to Letterman, 68, on his own competing NBC show. The Saturday Night Live alum acknowledged Letterman's four decades in the industry and how he paved the way for those after him. 

"I want to take a minute to talk about David Letterman, who I'm sure everyone here knows will be retiring after 33 years of innovation, fun, and just plain weirdness, but mostly fun," Fallon began on Monday evening. "This show and what late night has become is a result of him playing with the genre and experimenting and exploring. I, like every kid who grew up watching him, will miss him."

Fallon, who began his talk show career in 2009 by hosting Late Night on NBC before taking over the Tonight Show from Jay Leno in 2014, then pulled out a scan from a 1980s yearbook, showing an image of himself as a teenager.

"This is something from my eighth grade yearbook," he explained. "At the end [of the year], my teacher makes predictions about what her students were gonna go on to do… It says, 'James Fallon will replace David Letterman on the Late Night Show.' I wanna go to the racetrack with this teacher in two weeks."

"They offered me to do the Late Night show before this show and I talked to my wife and I go, 'I don't know, should I do this thing?'" Fallon continued, reflecting on the moment when his middle school teacher's prediction came true. "She goes, 'Yeah, you'll be great at it… Take a chance. The list is short, only two other people have done it before you: Conan O'Brien and David Letterman. So even if you fail, it's still a good list to be on. It's a good club.'"

Fallon famously saw success with the gig, going on to land the hosting spot on The Tonight Show. Now a heavyweight in his own right, the star still appeared awestruck by Letterman as he recalled his own appearances on the Late Show and marveled at Letterman's gifts.

"He's always just there when you need him," Fallon said of Letterman, getting choked up as he spoke. "I remember after 9/11, you know, we needed somebody. The city was in shock and we're all looking for answers and we wanted to see what Dave had to say. We looked to him to say something." 

"He said something, and I don't want to misquote him so I had it printed out," he continued. "He said, 'There's only one requirement for any of us and that is to be courageous. Courage, as you might now, defines all other human behavior.' David Letterman is courageous."

Fallon was joined in his tributes on Monday evening by legendary musician Vedder. The Grammy winner stopped by the Late Show almost 20 years after he first appeared on the show.

"Our next guest first appeared on this show in 1996 with his band Pearl Jam," Letterman explained. "He's also performed as a solo artist and appeared in comedy on this show and I think that will probably be the highlight of the man's career. We couldn't be happier to have him back here with us tonight. Ladies and gentleman, Eddie Vedder!"

Vedder, 50, then took the stage, giving a stunning performance of the celebrated 1994 single "Better Man." Joined by the CBS Orchestra, the guitarist crooned, "Can't find a better man."

Watch Fallon and Vedder's tributes to Letterman in the videos above! 

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