He had characters.
A handful were already well-known figures in one way or another: sportscaster Bob Costas, who called "Late Night's" elevator races
; bandleader Paul Shaffer, who came to Letterman from a stint as "Saturday Night Live's" pianist; and talk-show host Regis Philbin
, who was well on his way to setting the record for most hours on U.S. television.
But then you had the marginal, the unusual, the local: Larry "Bud" Melman. Dick Assman. Mujibur and Sirajul.
Remember them? Here are some of Dave's faves:
Larry 'Bud' Melman
The man also known as Calvert DeForest was a part-time actor working at a rehab center when he was plucked from obscurity by two Letterman writers, Stephen Winer and Karl Tiedemann, who'd used him in a student film.
An unlikely go-to guy -- he was short, with a high-pitched voice and a stocky frame -- he did everything from promote Toast on a Stick to hand out towels at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
"In reality he was just himself -- a genuine, modest and nice man," Letterman said when he died in 2007
The son of Bob & Ray's Bob Elliott, Chris Elliott was a writer and performer on Letterman who made up eccentric running gags, such as the Regulator Guy (a "Terminator" parody), the Guy Under the Seats and "Marlon Brando."
Elliott later became prime minister of Canada. (OK, not really.)
Jee is the owner of the Hello Deli, a restaurant near the Ed Sullivan Theater. Letterman put him on the "Late Show" in 1993, and Jee has made good use of the connection
Only on Letterman could a person dressed as a giant pea run through the audience flinging frozen legumes from a basket. Marvin Hamlisch even sang his theme song.
The longtime sportscaster appeared on Letterman's shows 126 times, often accompanied by a reel of sports bloopers named the "Albert Achievement Awards."
Back when Letterman
was doing his show for NBC from 30 Rockefeller Center, he started up a conversation with Parsont, a publicist for Simon & Schuster. The shtick continued for years.
Dorothy Mengering (Dave's mom)
Dave's mom was a game subject for her son's silliness, especially during the Olympic Games. She's still kicking at 93.
Pat and Kenny
Stagehands Pat Farmer and Kenny Sheehan occasionally dropped by to give moving readings of transcripts from Oprah Winfrey's show.
Lyle the Intern
Interns can be so rude -- especially Lyle, who treated Dave with disdain. Actor Jimmi Simpson, who played Lyle, has also appeared in "Psych," "House of Cards" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."
It's not often a stage manager becomes a breakout star, but Henderson -- who's been with Dave since Letterman's 1980 morning show -- is important enough to rate his own page
on the CBS website.
Letterman couldn't help but be amused by the name of this Canadian gas-station owner, and made him an international name for a time. Tony Orlando wished him well.
Mujibur Rahman and Sirajul Islam
One reason Letterman stayed in New York -- even after moving to CBS -- was the density of the city allowed for plenty of comedy, simply by making the neighborhood rounds. That's where he met Mujibur and Sirajul, two men from Bangladesh who worked at a Midtown souvenir shop. They soon became roving correspondents.
Mulligan, who wrote for Letterman's
various shows for more than three decades, occasionally sat in to rave about his favorite comic strip -- "The Family Circus" -- and, in one memorable bit, answered questions while dressed up as Hillary Clinton.
Ankers had a real-life full-time job: She was the set designer for both "Late Night" and the "Late Show," and her veteran talents also found a home with ESPN ("SportsCenter") and in syndication ("The Rosie O'Donnell Show"). But Letterman used her as various characters, notably the NBC Bookmobile Lady and Peggy, the Foul-Mouthed Chambermaid. Ankers died in 2001.
Letterman has had a lot of fun with his announcers, first Bill Wendell (who left in 1995 and died in 1999) and, for the past 20 years, Kalter. The latter has done more than simply introduce the host.
What would this list be without spotlighting Letterman's musical sidekick, leader of the World's Most Dangerous Band and the CBS Orchestra and occasional partner in crime?
Shaffer is no stranger to performing -- his Artie Fufkin in "This Is Spinal Tap"
remains the model of spineless record industry weasels -- and on Letterman's late-night shows, he's been a boxer, a bear wrestler and gotten beaten up in myriad ways.