They came from all over to say goodbye.
Jim Chaousis, 33, a traffic flow manager, flew in from Adelaide, Australia, after sending an email to the director of audience recruitment asking "could you spare one ticket" to see David Lettermanas last show Wednesday. His request was granted.
"Dave has not only changed America, but the world," explained Chaousis, who yesterday was wearing a tribute shirt to Letterman he had designed via the Internet Wednesday.
"He's made the world a better place: No matter how stressful your day has been, you watch and you feel better," and then fall asleep with a smile on your face, he noted.
Ticket holders were simultaneously thrilled to be a part of a historic occasion and sad to see the man who had made them laugh and think for the last 22 years at the Sullivan leave the stage.
The last show taping featured not only a line of ticket holders outside the Ed Sullivan Theater, but throngs of camera-and-phone wielding fans on West 53rd Street documenting the final parade of celebrity guests - Chris Rock, Steve Martin, Jim Carrey, Peyton Manning and Jerry Seinfeld among them - entering through the side door. "This guy's irreplaceable," said Patrick Maney, 68, a teacher and historian at Boston College who was attending his fifth and final Letterman taping.
"He's broken the mold for late night TV. What set him apart was a sort of cynical detachment," said Maney. Maney lauded The King of Late Night's interviewing chops, pointing out that he declined to fawn over celebrities and politicians, instead asking substantive and occasionally pointed questions. "I never imagined I'd get tickets for the final night," he said - a sentiment shared by many ticket holders who said they had applied online in a "Hail Mary" effort.
Justin Rugnetta, 26, an audio producer, had encouraged his brother Michael, 30, a lawyer, to "give it a shot," and the two were rewarded with chits to see the man Justin described as "the thinking man's entertainment."
"We came to New York just for this," said Michael, who is from Philadelphia and received a phone call last week saying he had been selected to attend. Show employees "made sure you had ID: There was no way to transfer," the sought after tickets, Michael noted.
Joe Lalich, 44, a graphic artist and illustrator from Detroit, saw the Letterman taping Tuesday after shifting around all his flights to do so, and showed up again Wednesday with a Foo Fighters album in hand, hoping to get it autographed. He also just wanted to mark the final departure of the guy who brought "integrity and rigor" to late night TV.
"He didnat take B.S. from stars; He didnat kowtow," said Lalich, already speaking in the past tense.
The Late Show "was my piece of NY when I was in Detroit," reminisced Lalich, who used to live in Hoboken and has clients in NYC. Letterman, he said, is "my generation's parson." And his departure, he continued, also signals something bigger: The end of an era in which viewing a show in unison helped individuals in a widely diverse and disparate culture to bond and be a part of something bigger than themselves. "The talk show landscape has changed so tremendously a it's just bits and bites now, as opposed to appointment viewing," he said.