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David Letterman announces 2015 retirement

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"Late Show" host David Letterman announced his plans to retire in 2015. (Reuters)

"Late Show" host David Letterman announced his plans to retire "sometime next year," he said Thursday.

The 66-year-old comedian, who began his late-night career in 1982 when he became the NBC "Late Night" franchise's first host, made the announcement during a taping of Thursday night's show.

“I just want to reiterate my thanks for the support from the network, all of the people who have worked here, all of the people in the theater, all the people on the staff, everybody at home, thank you very much," Letterman said. "What this means now, is that Paul and I can be married.”

Letterman was referring to Paul Shaffer, who has been the bandleader for both of his shows since 1982.

In a statement, CBS Corporation President and CEO Leslie Moonves thanked Letterman for his contributions to the network.

"For 21 years, David Letterman has graced our network's air in late night with wit, gravitas and brilliance unique in the history of our medium," Moonves said. "During that time, Dave has given television audiences thousands of hours of comedic entertainment, the sharpest interviews in late night, and brilliant moments of candor and perspective around national events."

Letterman informed his audience that his departure will be "at least a year or so" from now when his current contract expires.

Letterman has the longest tenure of any late-night talk show host in U.S. television history, nearing 32 years.

After NBC decided to replace "Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson with Jay Leno in 1992, Letterman went to CBS, where his "Late Show" became a direct competitor. Over the years, his show has consistently trailed behind "The Tonight Show" in ratings.

Leno retired from "The Tonight Show" earlier this year, making way for "Late Night" host Jimmy Fallon to take over the NBC institution.

But in an interview with Howard Stern in January, Letterman said that Leno's departure would have no impact on how much longer he might stay as host of "Late Show."

"I would do it forever if it were up to me," said Letterman, before adding a wry aside: "Sometimes, it isn't up to me."

With the late-night landscape now settling at NBC, Who Replaces Letterman becomes the new guessing game. In the wings as a likely heir: Craig Ferguson, host of "The Late Late Show," which follows Letterman.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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