As David Letterman prepares to say goodbye to his long career as host of The Late Show, he’s also reflecting on the mistakes he made during his 33-year stint. Recently, the famous night show host opened up again about the 2009 sex scandal that nearly ruined his career.
The New York Times reports that Letterman, 68, approached the subject after having time to reflect on what happened, including a famous blackmail incident that the late night host almost fell victim to. When the story broke in 2009, a candid Letterman felt that although he was caught having an affair, he couldn’t see the entire impact. He now thinks differently.
“I think [CBS] would have had good reason to fire me. But at the time, I was largely ignorant to what really, I had done. It just seemed like, O.K., well, here’s somebody who had an intimate relationship with somebody he shouldn’t have had an intimate relationship with. And I always said, ‘Well, who hasn’t?’… But then, when I was able to see from the epicenter, the ripples, I thought, yeah, they could have fired me. But they didn’t. So I owe them that.”
In the midst of the affair, Letterman was blackmailed by Joe Halderman, a then-producer of CBS’ 48 Hours. Halderman, who was dating Stephanie Birkitt, attempted to extort the host after finding Birkitt’s secret diary, in which she detailed her ongoing sexual relationship with Letterman.
Letterman, however, consulted his attorney before succumbing to blackmail. Halderman demanded $2 million in exchange for his silence about the affair, but Letterman, working with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, gave the producer a fake check. After depositing the check into his bank account, Halderman was charged with attempted grand larceny, which landed him six months in jail.
Although Letterman knew that the sex scandal would leak, he didn’t try to deny it once it surfaced. He surmises that he just didn’t have a way to lie about it.
“I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t think of a really good lie.”
The secret affair came out only six months after Letterman married his long-term girlfriend, Regina Lasko. Letterman recalled the excruciating experience of telling his wife about the affair, when he opened up in a 2013 interview with Oprah Winfrey. The couple remain married today and have a 12-year-old son.
Meanwhile, as David Letterman prepares to leave his 33-year-long career behind on May 20, Stephen Colbert is slated to take his place as The Late Show‘s new host. When asked how he felt about Colbert, Letterman indicated that although he thought Jon Stewart would have been a great choice, he didn’t have a say in who his replacement would be.
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