In Depth

Here's the Rest of the Letterman-Oprah Interview

Oprah Winfrey: You had asked me before to do [your show] in Chicago. And I did [your show] in Chicago. It’s on record. And it was a terrible experience for me. It was a terrible experience. [A] guy in the audience started yelling, "Get her, Dave." And you were sorta baiting the audience. And there were a bunch of drunk guys down in the front, and I was trying to mitigate the whole thing, and it felt so uncomfortable to me that I didn’t want to have that experience again. That’s really all it was for me. I just didn’t want to be in that uncomfortable experience [again].

David Letterman: Well, I understand completely, and I apologize because ...
Winfrey: You don’t even have to apologize ...
Letterman: It never registered to me that that would be offensive. Nor do I remember the episode. … Of course that would be hurtful. I’m surprised that you’re here now.
(Both laugh)
Winfrey: And even over the years, when you were doing the "Oprah, come on the show," Gayle, best friend, was saying, "You should do it. You should do it." I would go, "You were not in that room. You did not feel what I felt."
Letterman: Well, I’m more than embarrassed, and I’ll bet if I had the courage to go look at that videotape it would sicken me, and I’m sorry. I’m very sorry.
Winfrey: Don’t be.
Letterman: Well, I am sorry you had that experience.
Winfrey: But that’s what it was for me. It wasn’t about you.
Letterman takes Oprah's hand and kisses it and says: I hope we can put this behind us, Oprah.
Winfrey: Let us do it, David. Is it done?
Letterman: As far as I am [concerned].
Winfrey: Done.
Letterman: Done.
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ON JOHNNY CARSON:
Letterman: He was very sweet to me. He would invite me to his house, we would go out to dinner. But I was always nervous. I couldn’t relax around him. I knew that Johnny had a love-hate relationship with alcohol. And a couple of times we’d be out to dinner and I saw him go to the vodka. And then you could just see a little edge kind of appear, and I thought, I don’t want to be around here if all of a sudden Johnny decides he’s had enough of me. 
Winfrey: He doesn’t like me.
Letterman: Yeah. Because I always felt like a pretender. Because I never wanted to disappoint him. I just thought if I say something stupid, adios.
Winfrey: Do you think he was the kind of person anyone could ever get to know?
Letterman: Well, I don’t think I really got to know him. I knew him from the show, I knew him from the few ...
Winfrey: Do you think you’re the kind of guy people can get to know?
Letterman: I think there is a group of people that I’ve worked with for 30 years who I’m very very comfortable with, and around whom my behavior is -- it’s just Dave. You bring an intern in who doesn’t know what’s going on, and they’ve got stories for the rest of their life.
Winfrey: Really. Because you’re hard to work with?
Letterman: Not hard, just peculiar.
Winfrey: Give me a peculiarism.
Letterman: I remember the interns, we have so many of them, and it’s always Hi Bob, Hi Kenny. And we haven’t had a Bob or a Kenny work for us ever. So they can go around saying, "And the first day I meet him he’s calling me Kenny."
Winfrey: So you sat in all those years [on Carson's "Tonight" show]. Everyone expected you to be the heir. Did you also, somewhere in your subconscious, think you would be the heir?
Letterman: Not subconscious. I had a meeting and they said, "We want you to take Johnny’s job and here’s how we’re going to do it, and we just want to make sure you’re interested in this, and then we’re going to call the so and so, and then we think it will be a combination where you start filling in and then eventually Johnny goes out."
We had two meetings and I finally said, "This is great, have you mentioned this to Johnny?" And they said no, we haven’t mentioned this to Johnny. And I said, "Well, I can’t have this conversation until I know it’s OK with Johnny." And that’s the last I heard.
But I understand what they wanted was completely self-serving. They wanted to continue to maintain the show so they could continue to make a lot of money. Now, what NBC wanted turned out to be something different.
So I can’t complain about that. You can’t force somebody to want you.
Winfrey: Do you think you deserved to have that spot?
Letterman: Deserved, no.
Winfrey: Should have gotten it?
Letterman: I was disappointed that I didn’t get it. But I never thought that something had been ripped from my hands.
ON THE LETTERMAN SEX SCANDAL
Winfrey: Isn’t that interesting. You have a low threshold for embarrassment, but you have no problem embarrassing other people.
Letterman: There you go. … You and I and my psychiatrist should get together and we’ll have a conversation on exactly that point.
Winfrey: Do you see a psychiatrist?
Lettterman: Yes I do.
Winfrey: Regularly?
Letterman: Is once a week regular?
(Both laugh heartily)
Winfrey:  What do you still need to figure out?
Letterman: Oh my goodness, Oprah. There’s a lot of stuff.
Winfrey: What do you feel you still need to heal or work on that you can share with us?
Letterman: For a long time I thought I was a decent guy. But yet, thinking I was a decent guy, I was still capable of behavior that wasn’t coincidental to leading a decent life. That’s what I’m working on. I want to really be the person I believe that I was. I wanna be a good person. I believed I was a good person, yet I was capable of behavior inconsistent with someone who is a good person. And you can’t eradicate the record, but going forward you cannot be that again. So that’s what I’ve been working on.
Winfrey: Are you talking about having sex or affairs with people in your office?
Letterman: No, I’m talking about stealing cars. (Both laugh) … Having lived through that sex scandal ...
Winfrey: Just to say "sex scandal," Dave. You want to get through your whole life without having the words "sex scandal" attached to your name.
Letterman: Yeah. Yep. That’s right.
Winfrey: You did not make it.
Letterman: Did not make it. Have no one to blame but myself. And now I feel better about myself. My relationship with my wife is never better. Just because now I want to be the person I thought I was and probably was pretending I was. And so far, it’s been great. Things have been great. I hurt a lot of people. I have nobody to blame but myself. I’m not looking to blame anybody. I’m looking to find out why I behaved the way I behaved.    
Winfrey: I can only imagine what’s going on behind the scenes. Did you -- do you have handlers?
Letterman: (laughs) You think this is the result of being handled? … I still think that if you’re going to have a flow-chart for the responsibility for this circumstance, for this sex scandal, my name’s at the top. I’m not sure what it means, but I’m taking responsibility for it and trying to atone for it.
And in atoning for it you eliminate that behavior, and apologize to the people you hurt. Going forward, there’s not much more you can do.
Winfrey: Is that one of the hardest days of your life when you’re standing behind the curtain, or wherever you stand before you come out -- when you know you are going to "confess" to the country about what has happened?
Letterman: Yeah, it was tough. But I will tell you something. In the back of my mind --and this will give you the extent, the breadth and width of what a weasel I could be -- I was thinking, eh, maybe I can make this, maybe I can get a little sympathy out of this deal here.
Winfrey: Were you?
Letterman: Yeah, I think I was hoping that. Rather than being the actual one who was guilty. I thought I could generate some sympathy. It’s just awful, isn’t it.
Winfrey: … How did you come to the conclusion that I’m going to face the music, I’m going to tell the truth -- were there lots of people in on that conversation, or was that mostly a conversation led by you?
Letterman: I had friends I talked to about it, but I don’t know what my choices were. You pretend it’s not happening.
Winfrey: A lot of people lie. … Was telling [your wife] Regina the hardest?
Letterman: Well, yeah. That’s not a good day. But here we are.
Winfrey: Did you think she’d stay with you?
Letterman: Don’t know. Wasn’t certain at the time.
Winfrey: Did you have to sleep on the couch?
Letterman: I slept a wide variety of places. I’m still trying to fix it. It hasn’t gone away. It’ll never go away. She’s been tremendous. She’s got great courage. She is greatly intelligent ...
Winfrey: How did you regain her trust?
Letterman: That‘s what I’m still doing. I’m still doing it each and every day, in big ways and in small ways, and get the reward of a relationship I’ve never experienced before in my life, nor did I ever think was possible.
Winfrey: Did it bring you closer?
Letterman: Absolutely. Absolutely. We went through this together. We have that in common. And I’m telling you, it’s great. My life is fun and full of joy now, that I only pretended at before. So how about that.
Winfrey: So she’s forgiven you?
Letterman: She has forgiven me.
Winfrey: Have you forgiven you?
Letterman: No. I don’t have that luxury. I have to figure out what I did, why I did it, and live with it. But I can’t forgive that behavior. Like I said, I’m at the top of the flow-chart. It’s my fault. Everything. But anything that pushes you in the right direction can’t be such a bad thing, right?
Winfrey: Right. Because this happened you’re now going to therapy once a week, you’ve opened up in [new] ways. You just said it, "That’s IT, Dave." That’s our whole goal in life, is to bring more joy. Would you say, as a result of this incident, you are able to feel more joy working on yourself?
Letterman: Yeah. All credit to my wife, though. Because ...
Winfrey: Give some to yourself for working on yourself.
Letterman: Ehhh. OK.
Winfrey: Give it to yourself.
Letterman: All right. Thank you, Oprah. I’ll remind Regina, "But Oprah said ..."
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ON LETTERMAN’S DEPRESSION
Winfrey: I’ve read about your struggle with depression. Do you still get depressed?
Letterman: I never knew depression.  I knew, "Oh, I’m kinda sad today. Oh, I’m kinda blue today. Oh, gee the Reds lost." I knew that.
This, I’m telling you, is like you’re getting on an elevator and the bottom drops out. And you can’t stand looking at the sunlight. You can’t wait until you can get back in bed at night -- you’re shaking, you’re shivering. And I went through this for about six months, and hooo, my God.
Winfrey: How were you able to work every day, being depressed?
Letterman: I just pushed through it. I had to push through it.
Winfrey: Could you be funny?
Letterman: Well, as funny as you can be when you’re depressed. It’s a sinkhole. And people who have gone through it know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a sinkhole. And you think you’re not coming out of it. You really think you’re not coming out of it.
I was amazed by it. I was amazed by the chemical mechanism in your brain that can just drop you like that. And then somebody told me that, "You know what, we’re given these chemicals, these serotonins and dopamine and so forth, because if we didn’t have them, the world would scare the crap out of us." I don’t know if that’s true or not, but when I was depressed it made sense.
Winfrey: Did it bring to you a sense of compassion for other people who had been through it?
Letterman: Yep. Because I always thought, "Aw, you’re depressed? Go do some push-ups and you’ll feel better." But it’s not that.
INTROSPECTION JUST GOES SO FAR ...
Proving that Letterman can only be pushed so far into introspection, Oprah ended the hour by asking him, “Will you finish this sentence? The number one reason David Letterman has the extraordinary life that he has is ...
Letterman: I’m missing a chromosome?
Then he laughs nervously and adds: I don’t know.
Winfrey: I know you’ve had these moments where you’ve been introspective. Where you just say, "Wow, look at my life. This is really a huge, extraordinary life I’ve created for myself. And the reason this has all happened to me is …"?
Letterman: Well, I don’t know. I’ll need counsel to finish this. I don’t know what to say. Regina and I have this conversation from time to time, and the thing -- here’s what I’ve taken away from this with Regina. We go down this road and she’ll say, “Think about this. For 30 years you’ve given jobs to all these people." And so I think, "Yeah, all right, I’ll take that. It’s good. I’m proud of that. I’m very, very proud of that." And that’s as far at it goes.
And then Letterman said to Oprah, “Let’s get lunch,” signaling that that was the end of the interview.
If you click here to go to Oprah's website she has a number of the segments of her hour with Letterman available for you to watch.