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Look Back at Jay Leno’s Final ‘Tonight Show’ 5 Years Later

Look Back at Jay Leno’s Final ‘Tonight Show’ 5 Years Later
Jay Leno Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Jay Leno had already made his exit from NBC’s The Tonight Show in 2009. But after his follow-up, The Jay Leno Show, failed to woo viewers, in 2010 he took back Tonight Show duties from his stunned and furious successor, Conan O’Brien.

“This is my last show — for real,” Leno joked during his final finale on February 6, 2014. “I don’t need to be fired three times, I get the hint!”

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And that was Leno’s legacy. He was forever marked by his bottomless ambition — and what was perceived as the conniving wheeling and dealing he’d used to ace out David Letterman for Johnny Carson’s coveted gig in the late-night wars of the early 1990s.

But people watched Leno — in greater numbers than they tuned in for the edgier Letterman — and in the end, he became a legitimate heir to Carson’s throne.

Leno’s final show delivered a satisfying smorgasbord of entertainment, imbued, of course, with his signature middle-of-the-road flavor. He brought back Billy Crystal — his first-ever guest. The musical guest was also a safe bet: country legend Garth Brooks.

Cameos included Carol Burnett, Martha Stewart (who offered him a roll in the hay if he ever dumped his wife, Mavis) and even a stock Dana Carvey imitation of the lantern-jawed host.

Look Back at Jay Leno’s Final ‘Tonight Show’ 5 Years Later

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But after 22 years in the job he’d coveted more than life itself, Leno offered more sentiment than Letterman ever seem comfortable sharing.

“Boy, this is the hard part. I want to thank you, the audience. We wouldn’t be on the air without you. This has been the greatest 22 years of my life. I am the luckiest guy in the world,” he said as the final minutes ticked down.

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“The first year of the show, I lost my mom. The second year, I lost my dad. Then my brother, and after that I was pretty much out of family. So the folks here became my family.”

In the final seconds, Jay looked to his hero Carson for inspiration, quoting his predecessor’s parting line: “I bid you all a heartfelt goodnight.”

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