Teary Jay Leno says goodbye to 'The Tonight Show'

Sheryl Crow, Carol Burnett, Oprah Winfrey, host Jay Leno, Kim Kardashian, Jack Black, Chris Paul,...

Sheryl Crow, Carol Burnett, Oprah Winfrey, host Jay Leno, Kim Kardashian, Jack Black, Chris Paul, Billy Crystal, Jim Parsons and composer Marc Shaiman on February 6, 2014 (Chris Haston/NBC)

Bill Harris, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:48 PM ET

Jay Leno cried himself into retirement.

At times his rivals and enemies have accused Leno of being emotionless. But that wasn't the case as Leno spoke his final words as host of The Tonight Show, late Thursday on NBC and CTV Two.

“This is the hard part,” said Leno, tears rolling down his cheeks. “I want to thank you, the audience. You folks have been just incredibly loyal. This is tricky. We wouldn't be on the air without you people. This has been the greatest 22 years of my life. I am the luckiest guy in the world.

“The first year of this show I lost my mom. The 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. And when people say to me, why didn't you go to ABC? Why didn't you go to Fox? I didn't know anybody over there. These are the only people I've ever known.

“I'm really excited for Jimmy Fallon (who takes over The Tonight Show on Feb. 17). It's fun to kind of be the old guy, and sit back here and see where the next generation takes this great institution. And it really has 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 off to the next guy, it really is.”

A star-studded group of surprise guests including Oprah Winfrey, Jack Black, Kim Kardashian, Chris Paul, Sheryl Crow, Jim Parsons and Carol Burnett joined scheduled guests Billy Crystal and Garth Brooks on Leno's last Tonight Show.

Many would observe that Leno's last show was like many of his shows, with safe guests and few laugh-out-loud moments. But there were a few smiles in Leno's final monologue. Among them:

“I don't like goodbyes. NBC does.”

“Once I get fired three times, I get the hint.”

“Twenty-two years is a long time. When I started, marijuana was illegal and you could smoke cigarettes anywhere you wanted.”

“The saddest part of all? O.J. never found the real killer.”

“(David Letterman and I) like each other. We've had a long relationship. But we both realized no one wants to turn on late-night TV and see millionaires fighting. That's what Republican primaries are for.”

“When I started, Justin Bieber wasn't even born yet. That's why we call those the good ol' days.”

There was a taped segment with various famous people such as Barack Obama, Steve Carell, Kevin Bacon, Matt Damon, Bill Maher, Miley Cyrus, Mark Wahlberg and Charlie Sheen giving Leno advice on what he should do next. Sheen suggested that Leno probably has enough money stashed away to “buy NBC and fire everybody.”

Leno's last guest was Billy Crystal, who provided a heartfelt monologue of his own before he sat down on the couch for a chat. Later, Crystal sang a song along with the afore-mentioned surprise guests.

Brooks, the final musical guest, called Leno “the dearest friend to entertainment.” Brooks and Leno are tight, although Brooks' decision to wear a “Garth Brooks World Tour” trucker's cap seemed a bit tacky. After Leno's final words, Brooks closed the show with Friends in Low Places.

Moistness could be seen in Leno's eyes when Fallon, in a taped bit, said if a big story ever broke and Leno had a bunch of jokes he simply had to get off his chest, he always is welcome to come “home” to The Tonight Show and tell them.

Indeed, The Tonight Show was “home” to Jay Leno for the better part of 22 years. Some Letterman loyalists never accepted it, seeing Leno's reign as an illegitimate occupation. And that's not even counting what Conan O'Brien still thinks.

Leno never wanted to be the polarizing figure he became. But if home is where the ratings are, Jay Leno went out a winner.


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