Letterman opens up about 9/11, Carson and Clinton in rare interview

Dylan Stableford
The Cutline

Piers Morgan is in London this week preparing for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, so CNN has lined up a string of celebrity guest hosts for interviews with other celebrities, including Seth MacFarlane--whose interview with Bill Maher will air on Wednesday--and Harvey Weinstein (who gets Oprah on Friday).

But Tuesday's pairing--with a combined age of 145--is by far the most intriguing, with David Letterman giving a rare, mostly serious hour-long interview to Regis Philbin, who is making his first return to television as a host since leaving "Regis and Kelly."

In excerpts of the wide-ranging interview--taped last week--released by CNN, Letterman opened up about his return to late night television less than a week after 9/11. "I remember not wanting to go back, not feeling ready to go back, but knowing we had to go back," Letterman told Philbin, his guest on the somber Sept. 17, 2001 "Late Show" episode. "And you know, my concerns were minimal compared to people who really suffered."

Letterman also recalled his late-night idol and predecessor, Johnny Carson.

"He was, I think, the biggest star in television," Letterman said of the late "Tonight Show" host. "And I was just a kid who has followed the beacon of his light coming out of Burbank."

The 65-year-old Letterman recounted the last time he saw Carson, who died in 2005:

"The way life is, you don't know that that will be the last time, but it turned out to be the last time, and it couldn't have been a lovelier evening. And I cherish that because it was unusual. It was not going to happen under any other circumstances. And it was my wife, myself, Johnny and his wife on Johnny's yacht that he had anchored in the Hudson. And it was a Friday evening and we sailed off just before sunset and went up the Hudson, up under the George Washington Bridge, which is lovely, turned around, now the sun is setting. We go out to the Statue of Liberty and see that at night, as the sky is darkening. And then you turn around and we headed up the East River, and you see the lower tip of Manhattan, and it was a sight and an experience ... You never get to see New York like that.

The gap-toothed funnyman dismissed the notion that he plays favorites when it comes to political material.

"If a guy drops his dog or a guy straps his dog to the roof of a car or if a guy gets a shoe thrown at him, well, this is where the material is going to be," Letterman, who claimed to be a "registered independent," said.

"No president that I am aware of got hammered harder than Bill [Clinton ]over the Monica Lewinsky situation--we beat up on him," Letterman said, adding: "We thought, 'Well, this was so easy,' and then we got George Bush."

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