BURBANK, Calif. -- Johnny Carson last night abdicated his late-night throne with no princely pretension, but with some well-aimed barbs and many tears.
For his final goodbye, a subdued Mr. Carson sat on a stool and said, "I am one of the luckiest people in the world. I found something I wanted to do."
He alluded to a show-business return down the road and said he hoped the audience would support him again.
A weeping Mr. Carson's last words: "I bid you a very heartfelt good night." Then the camera cut to tearful audience members. The final image was of a Malibu sunset as the credits rolled by.
After featuring 24,000 guests in almost 30 years, Mr. Carson had only sidekick Ed McMahon and bandleader Doc Severinsen on the guest couch. The last show relied heavily on memorable clips of guests like Bette Davis, Madonna, Jane Fonda, Richard M. Nixon and Tiny Tim.
He had said he wanted no part of a "mawkish" all-star tribute. The celebration was low-key; the 465-seat auditorium was filled with family and friends.
Mr. Carson said he nixed NBC's suggestion that his farewell be a two-hour, star-studded, prime-time special. "I would prefer to end like we started, rather quietly, in our same time slot, in front of our same shabby set," he said. "It is rather shabby. We offered it to a homeless shelter, and they said, 'No, thank you.' "
The last program opened with a clip of his first "Tonight Show" back in 1962. Mr. Carson said in a voice-over, "I never imagined I'd walk through that curtain 5,000 times." A montage of Carson fashions through the years flashed by before he walked out one last time.
The audience greeted him with a minute-and-a-half ovation that could have gone longer, except that a misty-eyed Mr. Carson, uncharacteristically seated on a stool, signaled for an end to the applause.
In his final monologue, Mr. Carson said of his 30-year run: "I would like to do the whole thing over again. It's been a hell of a lot of fun."