Jay Leno In Emotional Farewell To Tonight Show

Sky News US Team

Late-night talk show host Jay Leno has said a tearful goodbye to the Tonight show after what he called the "greatest 22 years of my life".

"I am the luckiest guy in the world. This is tricky," said the emotional Leno, stepping down for the second and probably last time as host of the famous show to make way for Jimmy Fallon.

Leno shared that he'd lost his mother the first year he became Tonight host, his dad the second and then his brother.

"And after that I was pretty much out of family. And the folks here became my family," he said of the crew and staff of Tonight.

It was a tender finish to a farewell show that was mostly aiming for laughs, with traditional monologue jokes, clips from old shows and an assortment of celebrities helping to see Leno off.

Wearing a black suit and bright blue tie, Leno was greeted by an ovation from the VIP audience. 

Leno brought his show full circle - making his last guest Billy Crystal, who was also first on his sofa in May 1992.

Crystal was charged with calling on stars including Oprah Winfrey, Jack Black, Kim Kardashian and Carol Burnett for a musical tribute with a "Sound of Music" song parody.

"So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye... If Fallon tanks you'll be back here next year," sang Jack Black.

President Barack Obama, like other politicians a favourite target for Leno, got some revenge with his send-off clip.

"Jay, you've made a whole lot of jokes about me over the years, but don't worry, I'm not upset," Obama said, adding that he was making Leno the U.S. ambassador to Antarctica.

"Hope you have a warm coat, funnyman," he added

Crystal sang Leno's praises during the show, saying the late-night host made America feel a little better at bedtime and invoking his predecessor, Johnny Carson.

Leno's Tonight tenure was second in length only to Carson's 30 years.

"You were handed the baton by one of the all-time greats. But once it was in your grasp, you ran the race," Crystal said.

When Leno gave up the venerable show to short-lived host Conan O'Brien in 2009, he did a prime-time NBC comedy series before reclaiming Tonight in 2010.

This time, his exit looks to be permanent.

Leno, 63, said he plans to continue playing comedy clubs, indulging his passion for cars and doing such TV work as comes his way - other than hosting on late-night.

Fallon, 39, makes his maiden Tonight appearance on February 17, with NBC hoping he rides the promotional wave of its Winter Olympics coverage over the next two weeks.

Leno's late-night competitors, meanwhile, were not stepping aside for his final bow.

ABC's Jimmy Kimmel, who was harshly critical of Leno when O'Brien lost Tonight, had the A-list cast of the new film The Monuments Men, including George Clooney, Matt Damon and Bill Murray.

On CBS, David Letterman's Late Show will continue its musical tributes to the upcoming 50th anniversary of The Beatles' appearance on the network's Ed Sullivan Show.

Sean Lennon, son of the late John Lennon, was due to perform a Beatles tune with The Flaming Lips.

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