(CNN) – In the 22 years that Jay Leno hosted the Tonight Show – give or take the spare months Conan O’Brien took the helm – O.J. Simpson was the celebrity most often used as the butt of Leno’s jokes.
The TV veteran took aim at politicians and celebrities with equal zeal, landing family friendly barbs about Lindsay Lohan alongside wisecracks about Al Gore. (Interestingly enough, former President Bill Clinton was the biggest Leno target of all.)
But on Thursday, Leno departed Tonight with a simple, tearful farewell.
“It’s fun to kind of be the old guy and sit back here and see where the next generation takes this great institution, and it really is. It’s been a great institution for 60 years. I’m so glad I got to be a part of it, but it really is time to go, hand it off to the next guy. It really is,” Leno said.
“And in closing, I want to quote Johnny Carson, who was the greatest guy to ever do this job. And he said, ‘I bid you all a heartfelt goodbye.'”
Although the joke was occasionally on Leno in the press, the 63-year-old’s late-night colleague and competitor, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, made a great point with his goodbye tweet to Leno.
“Issues aside, 20 years at #1 is a remarkable achievement,” Kimmel posted Thursday. “Congratulations and best wishes to @jayleno on an incredible run.”
New host Jimmy Fallon takes over Tonight on Feb.17.