WASHINGTON - Talk show icon Jay Leno bid farewell to his remarkable 22-year run at the top of the late-night US television heap on Thursday when he signed off from NBC's "The Tonight Show" for the last time.
"I want to thank you guys. You folks have been incredible," an emotional Leno, 63, told his fans in concluding his final broadcast.
"I'm the luckiest guy in the world," he added. "I got to meet presidents, astronauts, movie stars -- it's just been incredible."
Country music titan Garth Brooks and comedian Billy Crystal -- Leno's first guest back in May 1992 -- appeared as special guests on what NBC called "Jay's historic farewell episode."
The silver-haired, square-jawed comedian and classic-car enthusiast is an American icon, famous for skewering hapless politicians in his opening monologue and welcoming celebrity guests for breezy interviews.
But this week has been all about sentimentality, with the indefatigable Betty White, 92, appearing Monday, country star Lyle Lovett playing a sad ballad Tuesday, and actress Sandra Bullock shedding tears Wednesday.
Crystal, a nine-time Academy Awards host who starred in the 1989 comedy hit "When Harry Met Sally...", reckoned Leno had told 160,000 jokes -- and gone through three studio band leaders.
"You were America's nightlight," said Crystal, who went on to lead a rousing rendition of "So Long Farewell" from the Broadway musical "The Sound of Music."