Letterman said he “had no idea that the man was in pain”
Letterman showed clips from Williams’ appearances on his show, saying he’d been friends with Williams for 38 years. Among the clips The Late Show trotted out: a young Letterman’s cameo on Mork & Mindy.
“What I will add here is that, beyond being a very talented man and a good friend and a gentleman, I am sorry I, like everybody else, had no idea that the man was in pain and the man was suffering,” Letterman said.
Letterman’s show was on break the week when Williams died, so this was his first episode to address his friend’s passing. Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers all honored Williams in tributes of their own last week.
“Two things would happen, because Robin was on the program,” Letterman told his audience. “One, I didn’t have to do anything; all I had to do was sit here and watch the machine. And, two, people would watch; if they knew Robin was on the show, the viewership would go up, because they wanted to see Robin.
And, believe me, that wasn’t just true of television. I believe that was true of the kind of guy he was. People were drawn to him because of this electricity.”
Letterman said the two befriended each other 38 years ago at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, a hotbed at the time for emerging comedians, including former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, Elayne Boosler and Jimmy Walker. Letterman recalled how it was common for comics to make fun of new acts at the venue, and prepared to do the same when an emcee announced a new comedian from Scotland was about to take the stage.
“We were feeling pretty smug about our position right away, because the material is going to be haggis, and that kind of crap,” Letterman recalled. “So, we’re relaxed, we’re ready to go, and all of a sudden, he comes up on stage, and — you know what it is — it’s like nothing we had ever seen before, nothing we had ever imagined before.”
The comedians, he said, knew they were watching someone special.
“We’re like morning dew; he comes in like a hurricane. And now, the longer he’s onstage, the worse we feel about ourselves,” Letterman said, with a laugh, “because it’s not stopping.
And then he finishes, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s it, they’re going to have to put an end to show business, because what could happen after this?’”