Cher and David Letterman: A part of late night legend, these two, and as unlikely a part of that legend as one could imagine, in terms of sensibility or humor or style or sartorial inclination. One: the great glam queen of Vegas, and an enduring symbol of a city and even of pop culture over the last third of the 20th century. The other: A Midwesterner who conspicuously styled himself as the antithesis of all that -- the cynic and anti-showbiz crank who presumably held his nose whenever he flew into Las Vegas or ventured into Hollywood.
And here's the kicker: Cher was possibly the most important guest in "Late Night with David Letterman" history.
So how fitting that she would return to Wednesday's "Late Show," too, for one last time.
Cher first appeared on May 22, 1986 -- almost exactly 29 years ago. She hadn't retired or unretired yet. "Late Night" was hot. She was invited to come on the show, had declined, finally accepted. This almost had the aura of a late night prize fight.
Cher scored first, and then again and again. She explained why she had never been on -- "because you're an ------." The audience roared: They're not booing, said Dave. "They're just chanting Cher, Cher, Cher..."
No one had ever called Johnny an -------.
No one had ever called anyone on TV an -------.
It was shocking. It was weird. It was...refreshing.
It was also, some certainlyagreed, an accurate description of Letterman. Dave didn't even dispute the characterization.
In any event, t was a defining moment for Letterman, and remains a part of his "best of" reel to this day. The crank and the queen. She won by a knockout, but Letterman won, too. To this day, some believe -- me for instance -- that Letterman and Cher planned the whole thing (yes, Dave has been known to stage interviews, or at least abet the staging of them, over the decades, from Andy Kaufman to Joaquin Phoenix). She had been told what to say, and played along.
But it worked. The so-called "feud" became part of Letterman lore, and good for newspaper copy, just as the so-called "Oprah feud" and "Leno feud" would become part of the Letterman legend, too, also good for copy in later decades.
But real "feuds?" Cher and Dave "made up" years ago; she's been on "Late Show" three or four times, but old memories endure. Meanwhile, last night's return of the queen was a forceful, clear and undeniably emotional reminder that a long and glorious career -- Dave's -- really is almost over.