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David Letterman recalls botched Airplane! audition

David Letterman auditioned for the role of Ted Striker in Airplane! but his terrible audition nudged it towards Robert Hays.

And the number one reason Why David Letterman Didn’t Get Cast in Airplane!: he was awful! The titan of late night, top ten lists and “retirement” beards, Letterman once unsuccessfully auditioned for the role of Ted Striker, which would go to Robert Hays instead.

In an upcoming oral history book titled “Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True History of Airplane!” – due out on October 3rd – Letterman recalled, “I get out there, and they had set up a cockpit for the aircraft with chairs. I had a chair, and there was another chair where the copilot would be. We did the scene once, and then they came in and gave me some notes, and then we did it maybe two more times. And I kept saying all along, ‘I can’t act, I can’t act, I can’t act,’ and then one of them came to me after the audition and said, ‘You’re right: you can’t act!’”

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The same year Airplane! came out, Letterman got his namesake morning show. While short-lived, NBC trusted him enough for a late night spot just two years later, thus launching one of the most storied television careers in the history of the medium. And so despite some setbacks – we don’t have to forgive Jay Leno even if Letterman evidently has – Letterman knows he was far better off where he ended up. “It was all so good-natured that I just laughed my way back to the car. I never felt any sense of disappointment, because from the very beginning I told them, ‘I can’t act.’ And then I was right, and we all ended up parting as friends. So, it was a good time.”

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Prior to his botched audition for Airplane!, David Letterman had appeared on a selection of series of the variety and sitcom type, including a spot on Mork & Mindy. But we all know his performance as Old Salt in Fishing Village in Cabin Boy is his finest achievement in acting.

Do you think Airplane! would have the legacy it does if David Letterman had been cast in the lead role? Or does his style and delivery not match with the ZAZ style? Give us your thoughts below!

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