David Letterman signs off after 33 years, joking his shows worked out to '8 minutes of laughter'

Comedian Jim Carrey arriving at the Late Show With David Letterman on May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on May 20, 2015 in New York City.  -- PHOTO: AFP
Comedian Jim Carrey arriving at the Late Show With David Letterman on May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on May 20, 2015 in New York City.  -- PHOTO: AFP
American football player Peyton Manning arriving at the Late Show With David Letterman on May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on May 20, 2015 in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
American football player Peyton Manning arriving at the Late Show With David Letterman on May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on May 20, 2015 in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
TV personality Barbara Walters arriving at the Late Show With David Letterman on May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on May 20, 2015 in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
TV personality Barbara Walters arriving at the Late Show With David Letterman on May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on May 20, 2015 in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
Actor Alec Baldwin arriving at the Late Show With David Letterman on May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on May 20, 2015 in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
Actor Alec Baldwin arriving at the Late Show With David Letterman on May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on May 20, 2015 in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
Hilaria Thomas Baldwin arriving at the Late Show With David Letterman on May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on May 20, 2015 in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
Hilaria Thomas Baldwin arriving at the Late Show With David Letterman on May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on May 20, 2015 in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
Comedian Steve Martin arriving at the Late Show With David Letterman on May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on May 20, 2015 in New York City. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Comedian Steve Martin arriving at the Late Show With David Letterman on May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on May 20, 2015 in New York City. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Dave Grohl of the Foo fighters attending the Late Show With David Letterman on May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on May 20, 2015, in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
Dave Grohl of the Foo fighters attending the Late Show With David Letterman on May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on May 20, 2015, in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
David Letterman on stage in New York on March 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
David Letterman on stage in New York on March 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hollywood stars Steve Martin and Tina Fey, comedians Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld and a host of United States presidents joined the band Foo Fighters on Wednesday to bid farewell to David Letterman as the veteran Late Show host signed off for the last time.

The show as expected featured no sit-down guest interviews, relying heavily on clips of Letterman shows going all the way back to his 1980s morning show on NBC, people who attended said.

It opened with old footage of former President Gerald Ford intoning: "Our long national nightmare is finally over," a reference to the Watergate scandal.

In succession, presidents George H. and George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and finally Barack Obama all repeated Ford's pronouncement verbatim, in joking reference to Letterman's retirement.

A bevy of top names turned up for one of Letterman's signature bits, the nightly Top 10 list, which was entitled "top 10 things I've always wanted to say to Dave". Barbara Walters, Jim Carrey, Peyton Manning, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Alec Baldwin, Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Bill Murray, Fey and Martin took aim. "I'm just glad your show has been given to another white guy," was Rock's contribution, referring to Letterman's successor Stephen Colbert, who takes over in September.

Notably absent was longtime rival and former Tonight Show host Jay Leno, although Letterman quipped in his monologue: "I'll be honest with you - it's beginning to look like I'm not going to get The Tonight Show."

More of his trademark self-deprecation followed when he observed that he had done more than 6,000 shows, then joked that noted physicist Stephen Hawking had calculated "it works out to about eight minutes of laughter".

The 68-year-old host, famed for his quick wit, sarcasm, offbeat humour, often snarky attitude and silly stunts, hosted top stars and presidents in his final weeks, much as he did during 33 years on late night television at NBC and CBS.

For his swansong, Letterman, who started in television as a weatherman in his native Indianapolis, dropped his edginess and instead thanked his staff, his audience and CBS executives, including president Les Moonves who was on hand.

Letterman even took a moment to introduce his wife Regina and son Harry as the lights briefly came up in the Ed Sullivan Theater in Manhattan's Times Square district.

The show, which ran long at more than one hour and 15 minutes, ended as Letterman told viewers "thank you and good night", turning the stage over to his favourite band Foo Fighters.

The group performed Everlong, once said by Letterman to be his favorite, as a montage of clips from his shows played. "It was a heart-warming and heartfelt goodbye," said Victor King of Los Angeles, who flew in to attend the historic show.