David Letterman Knew One Of His Favorite Guests Was About To Die Before His Final Interview


  • David Letterman’s interview with Warren Zevon before his death showcased the singer’s bravery and humor.
  • Letterman regrets feeling unprepared for the interview.
  • Zevon’s music, beyond his popular song “Werewolves of London,” was underappreciated.

In recent years, David Letterman has become notorious for his interviews that some believe haven’t aged well. To be fair, back when he was the host of The Late Show, many of his interview guests almost left mid-segment. But Letterman shouldn’t just be seen as a controversial figure. After all, there are many admirable reasons why he became one of the richest talk show hosts in late night. This includes his interview with music legend Warren Zevon.

In fact, Letterman’s entire relationship with Zevon was commendable. But it was their final interaction that gained the most attention. During an interview with Vulture, David Letterman revealed the truth about his relationship with Warren Zevon and how he knew he was going to die before his final appearance…

David Letterman On Warren Zevon’s Final Late Show Interview Before His Death

Warren Zevon died at the age of 56 after being diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, this was due to prolonged asbestos exposure as well as a life filed with drugs and alcohol. When he was diagnosed by his doctor a few months before his final appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman in October 2002, he was only given a few months to live. This made his final interview on Letterman a gift to both the audience and the late-night host himself.

David Letterman

During the interview, which took place about 11 months before his actual death in September 2003.

“I guess a couple of months ago, we all learned that your life has changed radically,” Letterman said to his friend of 20 years as soon as he sat down.

“You know you heard about the flu?” Warren Zevon joked before getting serious about his diagnosis. “Yeah, yeah, it’s true.”

“I might have made a tactical error by not going to a physician for 20 years. It was one of those phobias that really didn’t pay off.”

Zevon did, however, go to a dentist. And it was his dentist who told him to go get help after learning he was short of breath all the time. After going to the doctor, Zevon quickly learned it was as bad as it gets. He admitted to Letterman:

“It’s lung cancer. It’s spread.”

During his interview with Letterman, Zevon kept a positive attitude. Not only did he continuously joke about his tragic diagnosis, he kept a positive attitude. This is in spite of the fact that he knew that he was absolutely going to die soon.

David Letterman did his best to mirror both Zezon’s humor and his positivity throughout their groundbreaking interview. But it was clear that Letterman was touched and heartbroken by the words of his talented friend.

“Do you know something about life and death that I don’t know?” Letterman asked.

“Not unless I know how much you’re supposed to enjoy every sandwich,” Zevon responded.

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Warren Zevon conducted himself with bravery and class during his final Letterman appearance, even singing three songs. By the end of the interview, Letterman embraced his friend and reminded him to “enjoy every sandwich.”

During his interview with Vulture about his relationship with Warren Zevon, Letterman revealed just how impressed he was with his final appearance.

“Here’s a guy dying, and he’s on a late-night talk show — not talking not about his flight in from Los Angeles or his dog. He’s talking about the end of his life. I’d never seen an example of a guy, a person, go, ‘Hi, I’m here.’ ‘So what’s new?’ ‘Well, I’m dying.’ I mean, the human spirit is infinite. It was confirmation of that for me.”

“It had never happened to me before where I realized, Oh, our next guest only has a few days to live. I felt completely unprepared. Here’s a guy I had known for two decades, but I was completely unprepared for the context of this. The minute it was finished, I wish I had done a better job. That haunts me to this day. I have not watched it since.”

Were David Letterman And Warren Zevon Friends?

David Letterman is a notirious recluse. Therefore many of his interactions are limited. This has been something his friends Howard Stern, Jimmy Kimmel, and Steve Martin have mentioned numerous times over the years. Instead, the acclaimed late-night talk show host and comedian spends most of his time with his wife and son, Harry Joseph.

David Letterman's Son
The Things

But that doesn’t mean he entirely cuts himself off from his famous friends. Among them seems to have been Warren Zevon.

However, little is known about how much time Letterman and Zevon actually spent with one another outside of the show. Zevon would occasionally take The Late Show band leader Paul Shaffer’s place when he was away. During his interview with Vulture, David Letterman said that Zevon was the best replacement option for his longtime friend, Shaffer.

Related: The Worst Band To Ever Play For David Letterman Was So Bad They Got Pulled From The Late Show’s Syndication Reruns

“Warren would sometimes take Paul Shaffer’s place on days he couldn’t be in the studio. Often when Paul would have a fill-in, the person would be mannequin-esque, and they would just play the keyboards and say, ‘Thank you.'”

“Warren fit right in because I loved him, everybody there loved him, and Paul loved him.”

As for Zevon’s feelings about Letterman, according to Ultimate Classic Rock, the singer/songwriter claimed the comedian was the “best friend” his music ever had. Likely because Letterman was suh a public and private advocate for Zevon’s talent.

David Letterman Wishes Warren Zevon Was More Appreciated As A Musician

During his interview with Vulture, David Letterman revealed the first time he had ever heard Warren Zevon’s music.

“It was when I was in California, so it would’ve been my late 20s. I’ll tell you my first awareness — listening to his music supersedes my memory of this. There was a profile of Warren in Rolling Stone and it was about a hundred pages long. That was my initial personal impression of him, which didn’t even come close to the impression I had as I got to know him,” Letterman explained to Vulture.

David Letterman and friend Warren Zevon
Via: Instar/Youtube

David Letterman went on to say, “At first, it was like, ‘Look out and Jesus, look out again and I don’t care, I’m Mr. Rock and Roll. I like guns and alcohol, and I’m drunk and playing with guns, and leave me alone.’ Later, when I got to know the man, I think it was after he settled and reconciled some of the rough edges. The humanity of the guy is what I think of when I think of Warren.”

As for the lack of appreciation Warren Zevon received from the mainstream, Letterman believed it was due to the success of “Werewolves Of London”.

Inside The Success Of “Werewolves Of London” By Warren Zevon

According to Medium

Release Date

January 1978

Billboard Hot 100 Rating Upon Release


Youtube Music Video Views (as of November 19th, 2023)

23 Million

Spotify Streams (as of November 19th, 2023)

123,110, 496

“I often wondered if he had been victimized by ‘Werewolves of London,’ as that may have created an indelible impression of the man’s work.”

“While it’s delightful and humorous and funny and silly and good-natured and upbeat, it’s in no way even the tip of the iceberg. It may be an iceberg next to the iceberg. I just wonder if that’s all people knew of him. I mean, good Lord, nobody writes things like this. Where’s another funny silly song about the werewolf in London? That’s the only Warren song you hear on the radio.”

Instead, Letterman wishes more people would listen to Zevon’s song “Desperados Under the Eaves.”

“I fully believe that it captures an autumn afternoon in Los Angeles. There’s nothing more depressing than a sunny and warm autumn afternoon in Los Angeles,” Letterman said to Vulture before revealing his other favorite Warren Zevon song.

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“Searching for a Heart.’ Kill me. I’m sure there are love songs as good as that, but any better? I don’t know. I think it’s easy to overlook things he wrote later in his career, which we shouldn’t. Like ‘Splendid Isolation.’ We’re going to have to go to the judges.”

Letterman claimed that his love for Zevon’s music was something he was happy to share. Including with acclaimed musician Eddie Vedder, who later learned to love the underappreciated talent.

“It makes me feel great when my love for the guy is validated by somebody else I respect.”

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