Another era of The Tonight Show has officially come to an end. Jay Leno said an emotional goodbye to his NBC late-night hit on Thursday, Feb. 6, in a star-studded final farewell episode rich with celeb cameos, jokes, and bittersweet reflections from his 22 years behind the desk.
The 63-year-old comedian — who will now hand the reins to Saturday Night Live alum Jimmy Fallon — came out to a standing ovation from the audience before launching into his last-ever monologue. “I don’t like goodbyes; NBC does,” he quipped, alluding to his previous departure in 2009, which was followed by his return less than a year later.
“Tonight is our last show, for real. See, I don’t need to get fired three times. I get the hint,” he joked. “You know, being together all these years, [we have] a very close staff. It’s kind of like graduating from high school. A high school for really stupid people that have been in the same class for 22 years.”
“When I started hosting, Justin Bieber wasn’t even born yet,” he noted. “That’s why we call those ‘the good old days.'”
The hour continued with an appearance from actor Billy Crystal, who was one of the guests on Leno’s first episode of The Tonight Show back in May 1992. Crystal thanked the host for “making us sleep better at night,” and then led a rendition of “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music, with surprise cameos from Oprah Winfrey, Kim Kardashian, Jack Black, Carol Burnett, Sheryl Crow, and Jim Parsons. (Kardashian’s contribution to the tune: “So long, farewell / Tonight I told my folks / And now, I won’t / Be the butt of Leno’s jokes!”)
The NBC star also received pre-recorded goodbyes from stars including Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Sheen, Matt Damon, Jimmy Fallon, and President Barack Obama, whose appearance on Tonight in 2009 made him the first sitting Commander-in-Chief to appear on a late-night talk show.
“Jay, you’ve made a whole lot of jokes about me over the years, but don’t worry, I’m not upset,” Obama said, adding that he was making Leno the U.S. ambassador to Antarctica. “Hope you have a warm coat, man.”
Prior to Leno’s final remarks, country superstar Garth Brooks performed his hit song “The Dance,” from his 1989 debut album. “Our lives are better left to chance,” he crooned. “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”
“Boy, this is the hard part,” Leno said afterward. “I want to thank you, the audience — you folks have been just incredibly loyal…This has been the greatest 22 years of my life. I am the luckiest guy in the world,” he continued, fighting back tears.
“I’ll tell you, my first year on this show, I lost my mom. 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,” he said. “It’s been a great institution for 60 years. I’m so glad I got to be a part of it, but it really is time to go and hand it to the next guy. And in closing, I want to quote Johnny Carson, who was the greatest guy to ever do this job: ‘I bid you all a heartfelt good night.'”
He then turned to Brooks to liven things up a bit with a rendition of the song “Friends in Low Places.” In the final minutes of the episode, he joined the singer onstage, looked at the camera, and said, “Thank you, everybody. Watch Jimmy Fallon. See you later. I’m coming home, honey.”
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