Jay Leno Bids Tearful Goodbye to Tonight Show After 22 Years

Billy Crystal and Jay Leno on The Tonight Show

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

updated 02/06/2014 AT 9:45 PM ET

originally published 02/06/2014 AT 10:00 PM ET

Even on a bittersweet night, there had to be jokes.

Jay Leno has hosted The Tonight Show for a loooooong time. So tell us, Jay, how long was it?

“Here’s how long,” he said Thursday. “When I started hosting, marijuana was illegal and you could smoke cigarettes anywhere you wanted.”

Actually, it was 22 years since he took over for Johnny Carson at NBC’s venerable late-night show from beautiful downtown Burbank, not counting seven disastrous months in 2009 when Conan O’Brien helmed the program.

Now leaving a second time to make way for a new host – Jimmy Fallon – and a new city – New York – Leno, 63, said on his final show that this time it was his decision.

“I don’t need to be fired three times,” he joked. “I get the hint.”

After rattling off some Tonight Show jokes aimed at familiar targets – Anthony Weiner, O.J. Simpson – Leno turned serious.

With wife Mavis and close friends in the audience, he became tearful as he recalled everything that has happened in those 22 years, including the deaths of his parents and brother, and he paid tribute to all those who worked with him. “And after that I was pretty much out of family. And the folks here became my family,” he said.

Billy Crystal and Garth Brooks were the scheduled guests, and Kim Kardashian made a surprise appearance to sing her own version of a Sound of Music song: “So long, farewell, tonight I told my folks, and now, I won’t be the butt of Leno’s jo-okes.”

Leno ended with nods to hosts past and future.

“I’m really excited for Jimmy Fallon. It’s fun to be the old guy and see where the next generation takes this great institution,” he said. “And in conclusion, I want to quote Johnny Carson: ‘I bid you all a heartfelt good night.’ ”


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