In Rolling Stone’s upcoming September cover story about David Letterman, the famous late-night talk-show host retells his heartwarming last encounter with musician Warren Zevon, who died in 2003. Zevon was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2002 and performed on Letterman’s show on CBS in September of 2002. The entire show was dedicated to Zevon, and he and Letterman spoke at length about his mesothelioma diagnosis.
Rolling Stone has described Zevon as a “literate, satiric, violence-obsessed, funny as hell, piano-pounding, equally capable of deranged rock-outs and beautifully sustained melodies.” He was a favorite of Letterman’s, often filling in as a substitute band leader. Here is a small part of the interview and Letterman’s comments on his last encounter with him:
The show you did with Warren Zevon, when he’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer and only had months to live: He’d been on many times. Was it a difficult show to do?
Oh, it was awful. Warren was so good about it. After the show, it was heartbreaking – he was in his dressing room, and we were talking and this and that. Here’s a guy who had months to live and we’re making small talk. And as we’re talking, he’s taking his guitar strap and hooking it, wrapping it around, then he puts the guitar into the case and he flips the snaps on the case and says, “Here, I want you to have this, take good care of it.” And I just started sobbing. He was giving me the guitar that he always used on the show. I felt like, “I can’t be in this movie, I didn’t get my lines.” That was very tough.
Like Zevon, nearly 3,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with mesothelioma, an asbestos cancer, each year. Unfortunately, there is no known cure.