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Top 10 incidents/events on Late Show with David Letterman

Unlike his late night competitors, David Letterman regularly makes news via memorable interviews with guests, monologue barbs, perceived snubs or simply by rising to occasions.

Last week's sexual jokes about the daughter(s) of former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin -- and her heated response -- again have made Letterman a big talking/tipping point. But where does this latest headline-grabber rank on his all-time Late Show Top 10 list?

Here's a countdown, which excludes NBC's Late Night with David Letterman and covers only his tenure on CBS' Late Show, which premiered on Aug. 30, 1993.

10. June 5, 1997 -- A highly discombobbed Farrah Fawcett seems to be channeling Anna Nicole Smith during a rambling discourse on escaping rampaging fans in Central Park. "You're making fun of me," she eventually tells Dave. Nuh-uh. All he had to do was sit there and laugh.

9. Jan. 12, 2000 -- After months of relentless baiting, First Lady/New York senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton at last succumbs to an image-enhancing sit-down with Letterman, who becomes a teddy bear. The host doubles his usual audience while Hillary agreeably reads a Top 10 list -- "I have not been to the Ed Sullivan Theater since I was dating Ringo" -- and passes a pop quiz on New York odds and ends (the state tree is the sugar maple).

8. Dec. 1, 2005 -- The queen of daytime talk, Oprah Winfrey, makes her first appearance on Late Show after the host goes on an almost nightly crusade to nab her. Then he makes nice, terming their summit the "Super Bowl of Love" before escorting Oprah to the nearby Broadway premiere of The Color Purple. During their interview, she presents Letterman with a picture of herself and actress Uma Thurman, a tie-in to Letterman's less than riotous "Oprah, Uma. Uma, Oprah" riff while hosting the 1995 Oscars.

7. March 31, 1994 -- Dave's not amused when a heavily bleeped Madonna repeatedly drops the f-bomb while also inquiring, "Did you know it's good to pee in the shower?" She also calls Letterman a "sick (f-bomb)," wonders if he's wearing a rug and makes a sexual reference to the host's desk microphone. Letterman later tells USA Today, "I'm not pleased with the way I handled it. I should have said, 'You say that word one more time and you're gone. That's it. Adios.' And I didn't." Madonna didn't return as a Late Show guest until 2000, when she behaved.

6. Jan. 31, 2005 -- Letterman memorably eulogizes his long-time friend/mentor Johnny Carson by initially telling some monologue jokes that Carson secretly had sent Late Show in recent years. He waits until the end to reveal that they all came from the onetime "King of Late Night." Letterman also tells his audience, "Johnny Carson was like a public utility. At the end of the day, that's who you wanted to be there." After leaving Tonight, Carson made two cameo appearances on Late Show, but never returned to Jay Leno's inherited domain.

5. The week of June 8, 2009 -- Letterman's ill-considered jokes about Sarah Palin's progeny prompt an on-air apology of sorts while the Alaska governor basically brands him a pedophile. Dave predictably invites her to do his show, but so far she's refused. Several months earlier, Letterman berates the top of the Republican ticket, Sen. John McCain, for canceling a scheduled Sept. 24th Late Show appearance under false pretenses. But they're all smiles again when McCain does a make-good appearance on Oct. 16th.

4. Feb. 11, 2009 -- Actor Joaquin Phoenix, sporting shades and a scruffy beard, veers to and fro while discussing his alleged new career as a rapper. Video of the "interview" becomes an instant youtube behemoth, with viewers debating whether Phoenix was completely wigged out or trying to pull off an Andy Kaufman-esque hoax. Letterman ends matters by telling him, "I'm sorry you couldn't be here tonight, Joaquin."

3. April 12, 1995 -- Letterman gets a bountiful 48th birthday surprise when guest Drew Barrymore climbs atop his desk and does a little flash dance by briefly lifting her top while facing him. The host expertly plays the stunned birthday boy after accepting Barrymore's climactic kiss on the cheek. Brief but still highly memorable.

2. Feb. 21, 2000 -- Letterman triumphantly returns from quintuple heart bypass surgery after a five-week absence from Late Show, which deployed guest hosts in the interim. Sometimes near tears, he brings out the doctors and nurses who made him whole again. "These are the people who saved my life!" he exclaims. There are jokes, too, including a fake clip of Letterman's heart for sale on the Home Shopping Network. And just to clarify matters, "Bypass surgery -- it's when doctors surgically create new blood flow to your heart," the recipient explains. "A bypass is what happened to me when I didn't get The Tonight Show. It's a whole different thing."

1. Sept. 17, 2001 -- An impassioned Letterman is the first late night comic to return to the air after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Others then follow his lead. He begins with an all-business monologue, including these well-chosen words: "And we're told that they were zealots fueled by religious fervor. And if you live to be a thousand years old, will that make any sense to you? Will that make any goddamned sense?"

Letterman's guests are a very emotional Dan Rather and the redoubtable Regis Philbin, of whom the host says, "Thank God Regis is here so we have something to make fun of." Musical guest Tori Amos closes the show with a cover of Tom Waitts' "Time."

From start to finish, it remains Letterman's finest hour.