Jay Leno Bids a Teary Goodbye to The Tonight Show After 22 Years—Watch His "Heartfelt" Farewell!

"It really is time to go and hand it off to the next guy," the outgoing host says

By Zach Johnson Feb 07, 2014 12:14 PMTags
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Jay LenoStacie McChesney/NBC

The Tonight Show is officially in Jimmy Fallon's hands.

Jay Leno ended his 22-year hosting run on Thursday with a little help from Billy Crystal and a surprise musical sendoff from Jack Black, Kim Kardashian, Oprah Winfrey and more. At the end of the episode, the 63-year-old comedian cried as he thanked his longtime viewers, his guests and his dedicated crew.

"This is the hard part," a teary-eyed Leno said, his voice cracking. "This is tricky. I have to thank the audience. We wouldn't be on the air without you people. This has been the greatest 22-years of my life. I am the luckiest guy in the world. I got to meet presidents, astronauts, movie stars. It's just been incredible. I got to work with lighting people, who made me look better than I really am. I got to work with audio people who make me sound better than I really do. And I got to work with producers and directors, and just all kinds of talent people. They made me look a lot smarter than I really am."

"I'll tell you something: First year of this show, I lost my mom; the second year, I lost my dad. Then my brother died. After that I was pretty much out of family. The folks here became my family," he shared. "Consequently when they went through rough times, I tried to be there for them."

Referencing his brief exit from the program in 2009 (when Conan O'Brien had taken over The Tonight Show), Leno continued, "The last time we left this show, you might remember, we had the 64 children that were born among all our staffers. That was a great moment. When people to say to me, 'Why didn't you go to ABC? Why didn't you go to Fox?' I didn't know anybody there. These are the only people I've ever known."

Leno said he's proud that The Tonight Show is part of a union. "I have never worked with a more professional group of people in my life," he said. "When the guys and the women on this show would show me the new car they bought or the house up the street here in Burbank that one of the guys got, I felt that I played as big a role in their success as they played in mine. That was just a great feeling."

The outgoing host added that he's "really excited" for Fallon to take over on Monday, Feb. 17. "It's fun to kind of be the old guy, sit back here and see where the next generation takes this next institution. It really is," he confessed. "It's been a great institution for 60 years. I am so glad I got to be a part of it, but it really is time to go and hand it off to the next guy. It really is. In closing I want to quote Johnny Carson, who was the greatest guy to ever do this job. He said, 'I bid you all a heartfelt goodnight.'"

Leno then tossed it to Garth Brooks to close the show with "Friends in Low Places."

(E! and The Tonight Show are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)