Thursday, September 3, 2009

David Letterman: The night he was heckled by Ringo Starr

No Late Night Ratings post this week, because if you've been following this blog for the past couple of months, you know by now that it doesn't take Carnac the Magnificent to predict what will happen in the ratings battle. Why not head over to instead, and read a couple of fascinating excerpts from the new book I'm Dying Up Here by William Knoedelseder? It covers the stand-up comedy scene in L.A. during the 1970s, the time when both Leno & Letterman were up-and-comers, and looks like a must-read for late night TV fans. There's a hilarious story about ex-Beatle Ringo Starr heckling Letterman:

Letterman had a reputation for eviscerating hecklers, and as word spread along the back hallway, other comics started filing into the room to watch the impending bloodshed... In the spotlight, Letterman couldn't see who the heckler was, so he showed no mercy, and Starr was too drunk to appreciate how badly Letterman was beating him up. Finally, one of the comics took pity and called out, "Hey Dave, it's Ringo."

"Oh, that makes sense," Letterman shot back in the direction of Starr. "You ruined your career, and now you've come here to ruin mine."
The web page also features a firsthand account of George Miller's funeral -- "Late Show" fans know Miller as one of Letterman's most frequent guests over the years. Dave had a case of the shingles and couldn't attend, but Leno was there, and, as Knoedelseder notes, "The tension of having them both in the same room might have proved a major distraction."

In Miller's last years, Letterman had "paid for all of George's medical expenses during the last few years of his life and had even picked up the cost of a two-bedroom apartment and a twenty-four-hour on-call nurse. When it appeared that George was dying in 2000, Dave got him admitted to an experimental leukemia treatment program at UCLA by donating nearly $1 million to the medical center." Very generous -- unfortunately, Miller was such a prodigious drug addict that "he'd get so high that he'd forget to take his life-preserving medicine," and an intervention featuring Letterman and several other Miller pals was unsuccessful:
"George, you have to get straight," Letterman told him. "You have to get well or else."

"What does that mean?" Miller shot back nastily. "That you're not going to put me on your show anymore?"

For Letterman it was like a sucker punch to the gut. He left hurt and angry, and he and Miller didn't talk to each other for weeks afterwards -- the only time in their long friendship that had ever happened.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Wow, that was some great reading. Those excerpts of the book made me want to read the whole thing.

    I wasnt aware Dave was so generous with his friends and reading about this era in comedy was incredibly interesting.

    This kind of content is one of the many reasons I love this blog. Keep up the great work.