PASADENA, Calif. — Three years after an extortion scandal that led him to bare his infidelities, David Letterman said he sees a psychiatrist once a week to try to be the person that he believed he was.
The late-night talk show host gave an extraordinary interview to Oprah Winfrey in which he talked about his feud with her and Jay Leno, and about his efforts to make amends for his affairs with “Late Show” staff members that became public in 2009.
“For a long time I thought I was a decent guy,” Letterman said. “But yet, thinking I was a decent guy, I was still capable of behavior that wasn’t coincidental to leading a decent life. That’s what I’m working on. I want to really be the person I believe that I was. I wanna be a good person.”
The interview aired Sunday on Winfrey’s OWN network and will be repeated Jan. 20. It was recorded in November.
Letterman said his wife, Regina, has forgiven him, and he tries every day to regain her trust. He said he still hasn’t forgiven himself.
Letterman said he went through depression that he described as a sinkhole that he thought he wouldn’t come out of. But with medication, he said, he pulled through and told Winfrey he now has compassion for others who have gone through depression.
“I always thought, ‘Aw, you’re depressed? Go do some push-ups and you’ll feel better,'” he said. “But it’s not that.”
Details of the affairs emerged after a television producer threatened to unveil them if Letterman didn’t give him money. The producer was later jailed for four months.
Letterman took control of the story in 2009 by coming clean about his affairs on his show before the details came out. He acknowledged before making the announcement that he had other motives.
“In the back of my mind — and this will give you the extent, the breadth and width of what a weasel I could be — I was thinking, eh, maybe I can make this, maybe I can get a little sympathy out of this deal here,” he said.
Winfrey interviewed Letterman for “Oprah’s Next Chapter” at Indiana’s Ball State University, after being interviewed publicly by Letterman before students at the CBS comic’s alma mater. They cleared the air on their own feud, which fueled Letterman’s comedy for years.
Letterman said he believed it began when he called to ask Winfrey to appear on “Late Show” when he was going to do some shows in Chicago and Winfrey would not agree to appear.
Winfrey said she declined because she had been on Letterman’s show before and there were drunk people in the audience who made it uncomfortable.
“I didn’t want to have that experience again,” she said. “That’s really all it was for me.”
Letterman said he didn’t remember that appearance and was sorry for what Winfrey went through. He took her hand and kissed it. “I hope we can put this behind us, Oprah,” he said.
“Let us do it, David,” she said.
Despite Letterman’s often withering comments about his NBC rival Leno, he said they were friends before Leno was picked over Letterman to be “Tonight” show host. Letterman believes they are still friends.
“He is the funniest guy I’ve ever known,” Letterman said. “Just flat out, if you go to see him do his nightclub act, just the funniest, the smartest, a wonderful observationalist and very appealing as a comic. Therefore, the fact that he is also maybe the most insecure person I have ever known … I could never reconcile that.”
Letterman said some of the trash-talking between the two is simply the way comics often act toward one another.
Bruce Bobbins, a Leno spokesman, said Monday the NBC comic had no comment on Letterman’s interview.