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Jay Leno takes his final bow as host of NBC’s Tonight Show on Thursday.
The television personality prepares the way for Late Night host Jimmy Fallon to take over his desk after a 22-year run. As Leno exists the stage, The Hollywood Reporter looks back at some of his most memorable onscreen interviews.
After being arrested for lewd conduct with sex worker Divine Brown, actor Hugh Grant appeared on Tonight in July 1995 to apologize for his actions. “What the hell were you thinking?” asked Leno. Grant replied, “I think you know in life what’s a good thing to do and what’s a bad thing. I did a bad thing, and there you have it.” The interview did wonders for both Grant’s career and Leno’s viewership, nabbing a Nielsen rating of 10.2 that allowed Leno to beat out David Letterman‘s Late Show for the first time.
Former Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger forewent the traditional press conference and instead chose Tonight to announce his candidacy for California governor in 2003. Throughout the show’s run, Schwarzenegger made a total of 29 guest appearances, including one alongside Mel Gibson and James Taylor to help bid Leno’s show its first goodbye in 2009 when Conan O’Brien was slated to take over.
With his sixth appearance on The Tonight Show on March 19, 2009, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president on a late-night talk show. He drew widespread criticism when he described his terrible bowling skills as “like the Special Olympics or something.”
In 2005, Leno challenged a then 80-year-old Paul Newman to a two-lap go-cart race in the studio’s backstage area. “This is the first-ever NBC grand prix,” said Leno. Newman’s advice to Leno before the race? “Pray for your life.” After Newman’s victorious run, he sat down with Leno to discuss his love of badminton.
In 2013, former President George W. Bush came on to discuss his newfound hobby: painting. “There’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body,” Bush told Leno. As his various works of art — including a portrait of the Tonight host himself — displayed onscreen, Leno joked, “I can’t even see where you painted over the numbers.”
Following his feud with Conan O’Brien over the short-lived The Jay Leno Show, Leno invited Jimmy Kimmel onto his show for his recurring “10 at 10” feature in June, 2011. “Ever order anything off the TV?” Leno asked Kimmel. “Like NBC ordered your show off the TV?” Kimmel joked. Leno later told Oprah Winfrey he felt sucker-punched by Kimmel’s remarks.
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