With the recent retirement news of legendary broadcaster and showbiz stalwart David Letterman, the changing landscape of late night television just saw its oldest gatekeeper hang up his jersey. The industry that was held in such safe hands by Letterman and Jay Leno all these years has changed dramatically over the last few months. Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel have inserted themselves as the two young network stars duking it out for the coveted young demographic. The outpouring of adoration for this titan of show business showed what an impact he's had in his 33-year career. Late Night with David Letterman which began airing after Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show in 1982 showcased Dave's irreverent wit. This would lead him to host The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS where he would compete with NBC's Jay Leno for years.
Dave’s retirement came in typical Dave Letterman fashion, in that it was out the blue and seemingly done on a whim. “I phoned him just before the program, and I said, ‘Leslie (CBS president), it’s been great, you’ve been great, the network has been great, but I’m retiring,” Letterman recounted. The audience and his long time band leader Paul Shaffer seemed genuinely taken aback and unsure if this was a joke or not. “You really did this?” said Shaffer, “yes I did,” replied Dave with his trademark toothy smile. This moment had to come eventually, yet the announcement still sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry as one of the pillars of broadcasting said he was stepping down for good.
It was announced just days later that Stephen Colbert would be replacing Letterman after he leaves in 2015. The media hoopla surrounding the impromptu farewell lets us examine some of the other shocking retirement announcements that either came too abruptly or genuinely surprised everyone.
10 Richard Nixon
9 Barry Sanders
8 Dave Chappelle
7 Micheal Jordan
Michael Jordan left the NBA in October 1993 and it was like somebody dropped a bomb on the city of Chicago and the rest of the NBA universe. The man who had won three straight titles, three straight NBA Finals MVP awards, and seven straight scoring titles told the world he was hanging up his Air Jordan’s for good.
6 Garth Brooks
5 John Arnold
4 Gary Larson
2 Grace Kelly
1 Magic Johnson
On November 7, 1991 Magic Johnson shocked the basketball world when he announced he was HIV-positive. Magic was at the tail end of his career, yet still playing outstanding basketball. Knowing what we know now about the disease, it’s easy to see why Johnson regretted the decision years later. He wasn't putting any opponents or teammates at risk and could have played many more years at a high level. At the time, the national mindset about HIV/AIDS was one of fear and ignorance.
During his retirement press conference, reporters, friends, and teammates alike were visibly shook. They shed tears for one of the all-time greats and could not understand how this 32-year old man could be leaving the game he helped popularize. Magic remained defiant, telling the crowd “I'm going to go on. I'm going to beat this, and I'm going to have fun." That he did. He would make a brief comeback during the 1995 NBA season, but was underused on a young rebuilding team.
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