- David Letterman was crippled by insecurity, and would lash out, insiders claim
- He berated staff he felt were failing him, and feared losing viewers, they said
- He would have ‘nightly discussions’ on his failures, his ex-girlfriend claimed
- And he was violently angry toward a replica of himself after Jay Leno took off
- One staff member was so stressed he took to chewing metal Coke cans
- Reportedly referred to Andie MacDowell as the C-word after an awkward chat
- Stories from Letterman: Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman, out April 11
David Letterman’s gap-toothed grin was a welcome sight in homes across the nation from 1982-2015.
But despite the comedian’s warm on-screen personality and sparkling wit, those who worked with him say they knew a different man: A glowering, insecure figure whose fiery temper scared away many of those close to him.
His time on Late Night and the Late Show were punctuated with angry outbursts, crude behavior towards female guests and hours-long self-loathing sessions, The New York Daily News reported.
Difficult: David Letterman was hugely popular as the host of Late Night and the Late Show – but insiders claim that he was insecure, and that his insecurity would turn into attacks on others
Claims: The claims come from Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night, out in April. In it, some of Letterman’s former colleagues and friends say he was difficult to deal with
The claims – including some from Letterman’s closest colleagues and friends – are collected in the upcoming book Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman.
In the book, Zinoman says that the comedy megastar was miserable almost from the very beginning of his time on the talk show circuit.
In 1980 he was given The David Letterman Show – a morning gig on NBC that netted him two Emmy Awards but was cancelled within months.
His then-girlfriend, Merrill Markoe, an influential writer on the show, recalled how he screamed at her across a street: ‘If it weren’t for you and your crazy ideas, I’d still have a talk show like John Davidson!’
NBC kept Letterman on contract and shifted him to Late Night after Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, but Markoe says that did little to cheer Letterman.
Despite popular acclaim, she noted at the time, ‘The last ten months have included a nightly discussion about what a failure we are.’
Over the following years, Zinoman said, he would become such a tyrant that one of his head writers, Tim Long, would begin to chew Coke cans to relieve the stress – sometimes swallowing bits of tin.
But it wasn’t just behind the scenes that people suffered, Zinoman wrote – no-one was safe.
Shock: In 1998 Letterman shocked Jennifer Aniston (pictured in 2006) when he attempted to suck on her hair. He reportedly also called Andie MacDowell the C-word after a difficult interview
‘There comes a moment when he turns on you,’ one long-time collaborator said.
That’s something Letterman’s peer Jay Leno – who had made his TV debut on the Tonight Show, but was frequently featured on Late Night – would discover.
Their friendship was ruined, Zinoman says, when Leno took over from Carson in 1993 – something that horrified the insecure Letterman, who thought he was a shoe-in for the role.
Things appeared to look up when CBS offered him a record-busting $16 million contract to host their Late Show, but that seemed to exacerbate what Zinoman calls his ‘fear of failure’.
‘It got worse when he went to CBS,’ said Paul Shaffer, Letterman’s long-time bandleader.
‘Any flaw, minor flaw, he exaggerated. He was most uncomfortable at No. 1.’
When Jay Leno landed a huge interview with Hugh Grant after the Brit star slept with prostitute Divine Brown, he leeched huge numbers of viewers from Letterman – viewers who never came back.
After the interview, the book claims, Letterman performed a skit with a life-size doll of himself.
Letterman hit the doll, causing a burst of laughter from the audience… and then kept hitting it, over and over and over again, until the humor had drained from the room and the audience sat uncomfortably in silence, Zinoman said.
Bitter: Letterman was bitter about Jay Leno getting Johnny Carton’s Tonight Show job, insiders claim – and even more so when Leno’s 1995 interview with Hugh Grant pulled away viewers
His insecurity also led to him lashing out at his crew behind the scenes, the book claims.
When a guest dropped out in the late 1980s, Barry Sand – a producer who had worked with Letterman since his days as a morning show host – managed to bring in Mel Gibson at the last minute.
Gibson, who was a megastar thanks to Lethal Weapon, was a huge scoop for the show.
But Letterman reportedly exploded, shouting ‘Who the hell wants Mel Gibson? I don’t want Mel Gibson!’
The host brought in Kamarr the Discount Magician – a recurring guest on the show with more than 40 appearances – instead.
Even guests were not safe from Letterman’s venom – and his sometimes questionable attitude towards women, the book claims.
Comedian Rich Hall, who had written for Letterman on NBC, appeared as a guest on his CBS show.
He came onstage after an awkward interview between Letterman and Andie MacDowell, and moments before cameras rolled, Letterman allegedly asked ‘How’d you like to be married to that c**t?’
And in 1998, Letterman famously attempted to suck on an unwitting Jennifer Aniston’s hair, causing the actress to recoil in horror as he leaned into her neck, vampire-like.
Letterman appears to have mellowed since he stepped away from the studio, Zinoman says.
But for many of those who worked with him during his time as one of the late-night lynchpins, the bitter memories linger on.
David Letterman has been approached for comment.
Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman is published on April 11.
Unwinding: Leno is unwinding now he is no longer on TV, it would seem, but those who worked with him still recall long sessions of self-loathing complaints