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David Letterman's Scandals

David Letterman

The David Letterman Extortion / Sex Harassment Scandal:

He's one of the very big names in late-night TV talk. A protégé of the legendary Johnny Carson, David Letterman got his start with a very late night show on NBC but later moved to the traditional 11:30 PM slot on CBS. He's enjoyed a very varied and successful career and announced his retirement, effective around the conclusion of a contract in 2015.

But there was some controversy too. He claimed to be the victim of blackmailing and some women claimed he'd been involved in sexual harassment.

It all started for David Michael Letterman in Indianapolis, Indiana on April 15, 1947. He lived near the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway and enjoyed collecting model cars, including racers. He attended a local high school growing up and worked as a stock boy at a local supermarket.

David Letterman, teenage years

His grades couldn't carry him to his preferred Indiana University so he went to Ball State University instead. He graduated in 1969 from the Department of Radio and Television at Ball State.

Letterman started broadcasting on college radio but was fired for not treating classical music with enough respect. He then started a career as a radio talk show host and also worked at Indianapolis TV station as an anchor and a weatherman.

David Letterman, early in his career

The content may have been serious but David's true character began to shine through. For instance, while once reporting a tropical storm being upgraded to a hurricane, he forecast hailstones the size of canned hams.

In his personal life David married Michelle Cook in 1969…

David Letterman with Michelle Cook

…but they divorced in 1977.

However, in 1975 Michelle and several of his friends suggested he move to Los Angeles to become a comedy writer. David started doing standup comedy at the Comedy Store and Jimmy Walker, the comic TV actor, saw him on stage. Letterman joined the group of comics that Walker hired to write jokes for his standup act. Ironically, David's future late night rival - Jay Leno - was another of those writers.

By 1977, David was a writer and a regular on the Starland Vocal Band summer series on CBS. He also had guess shots on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show", "Mork & Mindy" and game shows like "The $20,000 Pyramid" and "The Gong Show."

And he became a regular guest on the "Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson" and became one of Carson's favorites -- showing up as a regular guest host for the show beginning in 1978.

David Letterman on The Tonight Show

Letterman credits Carson as the man who most influenced his career.

He had a morning comedy show on NBC starting in 1980 and then in 1982 "Late Night with David Letterman" debuted on the network.

David Letterman, early 1980's

That's where his features like stupid pet tricks started.

When Carson retired from the Tonight Show in 1992 many thought Letterman would pick up as host, but NBC gave the job to Jay Leno…

Jay Leno on David Letterman's show Letterman left NBC for his own late-night show on CBS.

The ratings showed the Tonight Show beating Letterman's late show consistently. There were other bumps in the road. David had to take some time out for quintuple bypass heart surgery in 2000. And he responded in August 2011 to an Internet death threat reportedly made by a Muslim militant because of a joke he made about a deadly drone strike. Letterman joked about it on the air, and suggested that Leno was behind it.

He started dating Regina Lasko in 1986 and they married in March, 2009.

David Letterman and Regina Lasko

Their son Harry was born in November 2003.

David also had a relationship with a former writer on "Late Night", Merrill Markoe…

David Letterman and Merrill Markoe

…who helped him offer many staples for his act, like stupid pet and human tricks.

In October 2009, Letterman announced he's been the victim of a blackmail attempt, claiming someone threatened to reveal he'd sex with several of his female employees. He also confirmed it was true.

The Manhattan district attorney, cooperating in a sting operation, subsequently arrested a man for trying to deposit a phony check. The suspect was indicted by a grand jury and pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempted grand larceny but later pleaded guilty to a similar felony and served six months in jail, followed by probation and some community service.

That was the victim side of the equation for Letterman.

On the other hand, following the initial announcement of the affairs, several prominent women including Kathy Lee Gifford and NBC News anchor Ann Curry questioned whether Letterman's involvement with subordinates created an unfair working environment. A spokesman for Letterman's company, Worldwide Pants, said its sexual harassment policy didn't prohibit sexual relationships between managers and employees.

On October 5, 2009 David devoted a segment of the show to a public apology to his wife and staff. One of the women who complained was placed on paid leave of absence from the show.

David's announced Late Show replacement is Stephen Colbert.

David Letterman and Stephen Colbert
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