Sad news for David Letterman and longtime fans of The Late Show came out of Indiana last night, as Letterman’s mother, Dorothy Mengering, passed away on Tuesday. She was 95 years old.
Mengering was a semi-regular presence on Letterman’s show, which helped to humanize the cranky late-night host and show he wasn’t just a guy cracking jokes and interviewing celebrities from behind a desk. She occasionally read Letterman’s famous top 10 lists and appeared for recurring bits such as asking her son to guess what kinds of pies she was baking for Thanksgiving.
But for the purposes of a site dedicated to covering sports media, Letterman’s mother was perhaps best known for being an Olympics correspondent for The Late Show when CBS had the rights to the Olympics broadcasts from 1994 to 2002. Mengering provided reports from Lillehammer, Nagano and Salt Lake City, making her a household name (well, if “Dave’s Mom” can be a proper household name) and cultural phenomenon. The video that still exists is rough, since it was the VHS era, but take a look:
For many, Dave’s Mom was the highlight of the Norway and Nagano games. Her bluntness and stating of the obvious was both charming and amusing. No florid settings of the scene and filling air time here. Son and mother got right down to it. “What did you have for lunch?” “Reindeer steak.” Here’s a conversation sample:
Letterman: “Is it cold there, Mom?”
Dave’s Mom: “It’s four degrees Celsius.”
Letterman: “Well that don’t do me no good, I’m from Indiana. What the hell is that?”
Dave’s Mom: “You figure it out.”
Who couldn’t relate to that, having similar conversations with their parents? (When I was a kid, our family took annual trips to Toronto, which I enjoyed. But the beginning of a visit often came with a refresher course on the Celsius scale with my father.)
Letterman talked about using his mother for an Olympics tie-in with the St. Petersburg Times in 1996. The network wanted The Late Show to do something Olympics-related, and he thought his mother was ideal for it, though was worried about putting her in that position. (via The Washington Post)
“I actually thought this might be something for my mother, and I didn’t know if it was because we had used her on the phone before or what. But, I was surprised that people took to it,” Letterman said. “The best part of it for me was that she got through the three weeks with some dignity. And she was not embarrassed, so that was nice. I was very worried about that.”
The late-night host paid tribute to his mother’s role on the show on Mother’s Day 2015, shortly before he retired (via Rolling Stone):
“When Paul and I started the show, and throughout the years, I was lucky enough to have my mother as part of my program here. We would send her places, she went to the Olympics… she traveled all over, and she got to be a very nice part of the show.”
Here’s one compilation of the Olympics moments with Dave’s Mom, though the video is horrible. However, it could provide a bit of nostalgia for those of you who remember having to fiddle with the tracking buttons in trying to get the picture on VHS right. You young whippersnappers don’t realize how good you have it now with your DVRs, digital downloads and streaming video.
Rest in peace, Ms. Mengering. You brought comedy lovers — and sports fans — quite a bit of joy over the past 30 years, while reminding us that we probably need to call or visit our own mothers.