ON FATHERHOOD, LETTERMAN TELLS CO-HOST CHARLIE ROSE, “IT'S LIKE YOU GET YOUR PRESCRIPTION UPDATED. YOU CAN SEE THINGS THAT YOU NEVER SAW BEFORE”
David Letterman, host of the multi-award-winning LATE SHOW with DAVID LETTERMAN and 35th Annual Kennedy Center Honoree, discussed his battle with depression and how fatherhood changed his outlook on life, with co-host Charlie Rose in a report that was broadcast live today Dec. 20, 2012, on CBS THIS MORNING on the CBS Television Network (7:00 AM – 9:00 AM).
Below are excerpts from the interview:
ROSE: [Johnny] Carson meant what to you?
LETTERMAN: Well—for a person in that situation, he meant everything. I mean, it was—it wasn't like it is now. The door to being a stand-up comedy or television success was “The Tonight Show,” the curtains through which you passed to be on “The Tonight Show.” And he meant everything to me; he meant everything to everybody else who was out there doing stand-up.
ROSE: The most powerful influence on your life, you think? First for that reason, and second because he was the gold standard?
LETTERMAN: Uh-huh Yes, the most powerful influence certainly professionally.
ROSE: We sit here in the Ed Sullivan Theater. CBS came to you and Howard Stringer after they decided to go with Jay for “The Tonight Show.” Can you look at that now and say, "That was for the best"?
LETTERMAN: Yes, absolutely for the best. And when I look at that now, I think it also reminds me of some of the worst behavior of my life, my own behavior. And I wish things were like they are now, I wish they were like they are now then."
ROSE: You said you cannot understand unless you sit in that chair, how you feel the necessity of getting a laugh every minute.
LETTERMAN: Right. Well, I—that's interesting. I remember when we said that. See, I don't feel that way anymore. I always felt like the show—I was the central nervous system of the show. We have—while my name is in the title of the show, I don't feel that need now.
ROSE: Is what makes you laugh different today?
LETTERMAN: That's a good question. No. I think what makes me laugh today is the same thing that's always made me laugh. Something silly, really silly, but yet still within the range of plausibility. Something that, "Yeah, that maybe could happen, we don't think so, but maybe it could happen. But it's so very silly.” And that's all it takes.
ROSE: When you go through that [bypass surgery], does it change your attitude about work? Does it change your attitude about mortality? Does it change your attitude?
LETTERMAN: No, it didn't change my attitude about mortality, but it did change my attitude about work. Because from the minute they pulled the—the tube out, the intubator [intubation tube], I thought, "Jeez, I wonder if I can still work again." So it— in a movie, it would be where the prize fighter who gets knocked down, he would be the montage where he then tries to get back in shape to get another shot at the title. So I was worried that I wouldn't be able to work again.
ROSE: This whole notion of the Kennedy Honors is recognizing something about your contribution. What Johnny Carson meant to you, you mean to Jimmy Kimmel and others. And do you have any sense of that? I mean, do you appreciate that?
LETTERMAN: Well, you know, Jimmy Kimmel is a case and he's been very nice to me. He's—a nice kid and been very gracious to me. And to the point where it's made me self-conscious. And I start thinking about what this is and the comparison that he had made that you are to me what Carson was to you. And the difference is—all I really have is tenure. I put in my time.
LETTERMAN: There was a moment in which you had— I mean, you worried about things, and you had a certain battle with depression, too.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, yeah.
ROSE: Yeah. And you found out medication can go a long way.
LETTERMAN: Yes. And—and always—quite skeptical about it. And my friend and doctor, Louis Aronne, 20 years ago, he said, "You should take something for this." And I said, "No," because I thought it would make me loopy or make me hallucinate or make me drowsy. And he said, "I'm telling you, just try ten milligrams." So I went through—I had the shingles really bad.
ROSE: Oh boy.
LETTERMAN: And part of the concoction of drugs they give you to fight that pain are pretty serious. And I just got tired of taking them. So I stopped taking them.
ROSE: Cold turkey?
LETTERMAN: Yeah, yeah. And part of that created in me this nervous anxiety. And then I was really screwed. So that's when I said to Louis, "Okay, okay, I'll try anything just to get rid of this depression." Because it was, it's different than, "Oh, I don't feel good today.” It's different than feeling sad. It's different than feeling blue. It's really like a friend of mine says, it's the world with 20/20 vision.
LETTERMAN: I wish I hadn't been so gosh darn single minded. Because when your focus is that tight, you miss a lot of what's going on around you.
ROSE: Might you have had a child before?
LETTERMAN: Yeah, yeah I think so—I just thought, when the topic would come up, I can't do both. I can't try to have a successful television show and be a father. And I was wrong about that—because as difficult as being a father is, it's entirely complementary with everything else in your life.
ROSE: How is that?
LETTERMAN: Well, you just, you know. It's like you get your prescription updated. You can see things that you never saw before.
ROSE: And you think of things other than yourself.
LETTERMAN: You think of things other than yourself and you recognize and all of this is anybody who's had kids—
ROSE: Says this?
LETTERMAN: —goes through the same thing. But you know, I wish I had, like, five or six kids.
ROSE: Do you really?
LETTERMAN: Well, no. I just say that because I think people would like to hear it.
ROSE: No, you do. You like it. I mean to read everything you've ever said about this.
LETTERMAN: I wish I had—
ROSE: —you love.
LETTERMAN: I wish I had a little girl.
LETTERMAN: I have a little boy now, I wish I had a little girl.
ROSE: Never too late, is it?
LETTERMAN: Look at me. You got a better shot than I do.
ROSE: No, I don't think so. But it changed your life. I mean, you have said a number of times, this kid made you see everything differently.
LETTERMAN: Makes you see everything different. But what I wasn't prepared for was the infinite anxiety that it triggers. You worry about everything. I don't care. Just throw out a topic, go through the alphabet, identify a word that begins with any letter that could be trouble, you worry about it.
ROSE: That it could happen to your son?
LETTERMAN: Happen to your son, could happen to you, you could do something, it just—it's endless. It's the old, you know, "Don't run with that, don't run with the screwdriver." And now I see my kid run, I say, "Oh, God.”
ROSE: Let it go, let it go.
LETTERMAN: “He's running with the screwdriver.” I mean, how did that happen?
ROSE: [Carson] walked away from it. Could you walk away from it?
LETTERMAN: Yeah, yeah.
ROSE: You think so?
LETTERMAN: Yeah. You—I think you would always—I know Johnny missed it because, like six months after he retired, somebody had a big party for him in New York, and he'd won some sort of an award and people got up and did material. And Johnny, who had not been on television for six months or a year, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. Right down like he'd had not missed a beat. Stuff out of the newspaper, bang, bang, bang, bang. And at some point during that, he said, "I'm so glad this is going well." He says, "I sure do miss it." So I know he missed it. And I know I would miss it. But I'd find other things to do.
Click here for the first part of the interview.
Click here for the second part of the interview.
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