After 22 years, Leno bids farewell to 'Tonight'

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Jay Leno through the years
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After 22 years, Leno bids farewell to 'Tonight'
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno poses for a photo with fans at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: (L to R) Alex Sykes, Wanda Sykes, honoree Jay Leno and his wife Mavis arrive at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno arrives at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno and his wife Mavis Leno arrive at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno arrives at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno arrives at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Master of Ceremonies Jay Leno speaks onstage at the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball presented by Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Recording artist Josh Groban (L) and master of ceremonies Jay Leno speak onstage at the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball presented by Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Master of Ceremonies Jay Leno (L) and music producer David Foster speak onstage at the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball presented by Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Master of Ceremonies Jay Leno (L) and Carousel of Hope Chairman Barbara Davis speak onstage at the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball presented by Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Jay Leno and wife Mavis Leno arrive at the 2014 Carousel Of Hope Ball Presented By Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Comedian Jay Leno attends the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
BURBANK, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Jay Leno poses for a portrait at his car garage on Wenesday September 24, 2014 in Burbank, CA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Jay Leno is interviewed at his car garage on Wenesday September 24, 2014 in Burbank, CA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
LANCASTER, PA - SEPTEMBER 21: Jay Leno changes clothes after performing at the American Music Theatre on Sunday September 21, 2014 in Lancaster, PA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
LANCASTER, PA - SEPTEMBER 21: Jay Leno performs at the American Music Theatre on Sunday September 21, 2014 in Lancaster, PA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
LANCASTER, PA - SEPTEMBER 21: Jay Leno is interviewed before performing at the American Music Theatre on Sunday September 21, 2014 in Lancaster, PA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: Host Jay Leno reminisces on his 22 year run as host of the Tonight Show on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actor Jack Black, host Jay Leno and Kim Kardashian during Jay Leno's farewell song on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Stacie McChesney/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actress Carol Burnett, singer Sheryl Crow, actor Jack Black, basketball player Chris Paul, host Jay Leno, actor Jim Parsons, Kim Kardashian, and Oprah Winfrey during Jay Leno's 'Farewell Song' on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Stacie McChesney/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: (l-r) Musical guest Garth Brooks and host Jay Leno on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: Musical guest Garth Brooks performs on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Stacie McChesney/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Comedian Jay Leno appears onstage during a commercial break on the final episode of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" at The Burbank Studios on February 6, 2014 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Air Date 01/28/1992 -- Pictured: Guest host Jay Leno on January 28, 1992 (Photo by Joseph Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 30 -- Pictured: host Jay Leno during 'presidential poll' segment on June 30, 1992 (pictured) president William (Bill) Jefferson Clinton (Photo by Wendy Perl/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - AUGUST 4: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton appears on the 'Tonight Show with Jay Leno' at the NBC Studios August 4, 2003 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4570 -- Pictured: (l-r) Former President George W. Bush during an interview with host Jay Leno on November 19, 2013 -- (Photo by: Stacie McChesney/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Al Gore at 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno' at the NBC Studios in Burbank, Ca. Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2002. Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect.
LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN -- Episode 1144 -- Pictured: (l-r) The new host of 'The Tonight Show' Jay Leno, host David Letterman on May 7, 1992 -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Comedian Jay Leno during an interview with guest host David Letterman on July 4, 1979. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank)
Jay Leno arrives on May 5, 2014 for a demonstration in support of Women's Rights and LGBT groups across from the Beverly Hills Hotel, owned by the Sultan of Brunei, who also owns the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles, in Beverly Hills, California, which passed a resolution demanding May 7, 2014 the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, sell his hotel in the posh US city after he announced last week that he would push ahead with implementing sharia law, despite criticism both at home and internationally. The city council said they will send the resolution to the State Department asking Washington to 'take appropriate action to condemn the Brunei government's policies.' AFP PHOTO / Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 5: Comedian Jay Leno participates in a rally to protest draconian punishment of women and gay people announced by the Sultan of Brunei outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan, on May 5, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. The Sultan of Brunei is planning to implement a brand of Sharia Penal Code which calls for the stoning of people for various offenses including homosexual acts, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations, a move that has been criticized by The United Nations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 5: Comedian Jay Leno participates in a rally to protest draconian punishment of women and gay people announced by the Sultan of Brunei outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan, on May 5, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. The Sultan of Brunei is planning to implement a brand of Sharia Penal Code which calls for the stoning of people for various offenses including homosexual acts, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations, a move that has been criticized by The United Nations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 5: Comedian Jay Leno participates in a rally to protest draconian punishment of women and gay people announced by the Sultan of Brunei outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan, on May 5, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. The Sultan of Brunei is planning to implement a brand of Sharia Penal Code which calls for the stoning of people for various offenses including homosexual acts, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations, a move that has been criticized by The United Nations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 5: Comedian Jay Leno participates in a rally to protest draconian punishment of women and gay people announced by the Sultan of Brunei outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan, on May 5, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. The Sultan of Brunei is planning to implement a brand of Sharia Penal Code which calls for the stoning of people for various offenses including homosexual acts, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations, a move that has been criticized by The United Nations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) - Make way for Jimmy Fallon,

"Tonight Show" host Jay Leno ended a stellar if sometimes stormy run Thursday night with high emotion at concluding what he termed "the greatest 22 years of my life."

Calling himself "the luckiest guy in the world," Leno went out on top, which was where he stayed for most of his stretch as the successor to "King of Late Night" Johnny Carson.

His exit, not entirely by choice, now clears the deck for yet another chapter of the 60-year-old talk show, with Fallon taking over as "Tonight" moves back to New York from its longtime Los Angeles home on Feb. 17.

"You're very kind," Leno told his audience at the start of his last monologue. "I don't like goodbyes. NBC does. I don't care for them."

He had said goodbye to "The Tonight Show" before.

His first departure came in 2009, when he was briefly replaced by Conan O'Brien but reclaimed the show after a messy transition and O'Brien's lackluster ratings. In '09, he was moving to a prime-time show on NBC; this time he's out the door, and has said he'll focus on comedy clubs and his beloved car collection.

"I don't need to get fired three times," he cracked. "I get the hint."

Looking sharp in a black suit and bright blue tie, Leno was greeted by a standing ovation from the VIP audience. The typically self-contained comic betrayed a bit of nervousness, stumbling over a few lines in his monologue as he looked back comically.

"When I started hosting, Justin Bieber wasn't even born yet," Leno marveled. "That's why we called those 'the good old days.'"

The worst part of leaving NBC's employ, he joked: "Now I'll have to sign up for Obamacare."

But later Leno was serious, even choking up, when he shared that he'd lost his mother the first year he became "Tonight" host, his dad the second and then his brother.

"And after that I was pretty much out of family. And the folks here became my family," he said of the crew and staff of "Tonight."

The tender moments had a heightened effect on a show that was mostly aiming for laughs, with traditional monologue jokes, clips from old shows and a wild assortment of celebrities helping him close the book.

Leno brought his show full circle with Billy Crystal, who was his first guest in May 1992 and his last guest Thursday. Crystal played ringmaster at one point, calling on Oprah Winfrey, Jack Black, Kim Kardashian, Carol Burnett and others for a musical tribute to Jay with a "Sound of Music" song parody.

"So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye. If Fallon tanks you'll be back here next year," sang Jack Black.

"The Big Bang Theory" star Jim Parson's contribution: "We've watched you when we're weary. Your great success is called the big chin theory."

In a videotaped segment, celebrities offered career advice to Leno.

"Why would I give a (expletive) about what he does? He's a grown man," said Mark Wahlberg.

President Barack Obama, like other politicians a favorite target of Leno's, struck back in his clip.

"Jay, you've made a whole lot of jokes about me over the years, but do not worry, I'm not upset," Obama said, adding that he was making Leno the U.S. ambassador to Antarctica. "Hope you have a warm coat, funnyman."

Crystal sang Leno's praises during the show, saying the late-night host made America feel a little better at bedtime and invoking his predecessor, Johnny Carson. Leno's "Tonight" tenure was second in length only to Carson's 30 years.

"You were handed the baton by one of the all-time greats. But once it was in your grasp, you ran the race," Crystal said. He and Leno, longtime friends, reminisced about the old days, with Leno recalling how Crystal and other comedians visiting his town, Boston, stayed in Leno's apartment.

"You're calling it an apartment. I'm calling it a bomb site," Crystal joked.

Leno told how he was poised to make his network debut on Dean Martin's show in 1974 when news came that President Richard Nixon had resigned in the Watergate scandal. Leno's appearance didn't happen.

"Making me the last guy screwed by Nixon," Leno said.

Garth Brooks performed his touching song "The Dance" before Leno's likewise touching farewell remarks.

"Now that I brought the room down," Leno joked, he asked Brooks to lighten it up. Another Brooks' song, "Friends in Low Places," closed out the show.

Leno, 63, has said he plans to continue playing comedy clubs, indulging his passion for cars and doing such TV work as comes his way - other than hosting on late-night.

"I'm real excited for Jimmy Fallon," Leno told his audience. "It's kind of fun to be the old guy and sit back here and see where the next generation takes this great institution."

___

AP writers Lynn Elber and Derrik J. Lang contributed to this report.
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