CBS's Late Show finally chimes in with its tribute to the longtime Tonight Show host

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated February 01, 2005 08:00 AM

David Letterman paid tribute to his mentor Johnny Carson on CBS’s Late Show Monday night by delivering a monologue composed entirely of material privately sent him by the retired Tonight Show host during his final months – though Dave didn’t divulge who the author was until he was back at his desk.

Carson died of emphysema on Jan. 23 at age 79, though Letterman’s Late Show was in reruns all last week. Monday was the first opportunity to honor the man who hosted NBC’s late-night staple for 30 years.

Typical of Carson material, the jokes were wonderfully structured, nicely set up and relatively topical. Among them:

Letterman said scientists had been working on an airplane that flew 50 miles above the Earth, from which only two man-made objects were visible: “One is the Great Wall of China,” Letterman said. “and the other is Donald Trump’s hair.”

Another had to do with the reason Paris Hilton’s dog, Tinker Bell, missing for a few days. The reason: It was “with the Taco Bell Chihuahua making a sex video.”

And what would be a Carson monologue without a political jibe? So Letterman noted that Democrat John Kerry, being criticized for his Vietnam service record, was attacked for throwing away some of his military service medals. “Not to be outdone,” Letterman continued, “President Bush threw away his National Guard spotty attendance records.”

In a rare, poignant moment for the usually sardonic Letterman, 57, he said in all sincerity that he owed his career to Carson.