The David Letterman reflection on how he treated young actresses that only Julia Roberts could deliver: "What was the matter with me?"

A tender and revealing sendoff to one of TV's classic couples

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published May 14, 2015 6:30PM (EDT)

Julia Roberts, David Letterman        (CBS)
Julia Roberts, David Letterman (CBS)

As David Letterman continues his long, often brilliant in unexpected ways march toward his last episode — Adam Sandler being funny for a change! Parting shots at Leno! — on Wednesday he crossed off yet another item on the late night bucket list, and got in more snog session with Julia Roberts.

As a finale to television's greatest flirtation outside of Dean and Cas, the sparks between Letterman and Roberts remained as crackly as ever. Roberts, wearing a "Late Show" jacket for her 26th and last appearance, said she'd come by "to find out what the hell is going on here. I turn my back for a minute — it's bulls___t, David Letterman. Explain yourself." And when Dave leadingly asked her to recall her first guest appearance, promoting the 1988 movie "Mystic Pizza," she drily replied that he was faking his remembrance of the visit and appreciation for her performance, but that it was "so sweet" for him to pretend otherwise.

And she added her own perspective. "I, as a fan of the show, did not want to come on," she admitted, "because I had seen you absolutely dismember young actresses of my kind of peer group. I thought, I'm going to go on and he's going to know within ten seconds what my IQ is. And you are going to, like a samurai, Benihana me into pieces and I'll be left for dead and forgotten."

Letterman gallantly replied that he wasn't going "argue that that perception was false" but instead, the man who's famously had some very interesting dynamics with his prettiest female guests asked, "What was the matter with me?"

And with her trademark million dollar smile, Letterman's great, 21-years-his-junior crush said, "Because I think stupid people annoy you." Little could she have known then that she had nothing to worry about — during a 2003 visit to the show, Letterman told her, "We've known each other a long time… I fell in love with you and that movie at the same time, and I've felt the same ever since."

On Wednesday's show, the two took a stroll down memory lane with a reel of some of their many, many kisses over the years, including a particularly tender 2000 visit when she told him, after his return from his sabbatical for heart surgery, "I'm so glad you feel better, sweetie. We missed you." Then Dave stepped out from behind his desk, led Julia by the hand to center stage, and gave her one final smooch. And at some point in the lip lock, the performance of it seemed to give way to a real expression of love between two old friends, a sincere and intimate moment that just happened to be in front of the world. Then when it was over, Roberts clasped her hand to her heart. Dave gave a classic, cartoony "Whoa! Whooooooaaa!" reaction, and the show resumed.

Despite her early fears that she lacked the IQ chops for the likes of Letterman, Roberts has always more than held her own with the host — and their appearances together have had a unique feistiness that seemed to bring out something simultaneously teasing, flirtatious and genuinely warm in both. But if Wednesday marked the end of television's brilliant platonic love affair, at least it went out the right way: with a sweet, satisfying kiss goodbye.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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David Letterman Julia Roberts The Late Show With David Letterman Video