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Letterman invites Teri Garr back - finally

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Teri Garr was a guest on the "Late Show with David Letterman" last night.

Once upon a time, that wouldn't have been unusual. Back in the "Late Night" days on NBC, Garr was one of Letterman's favorite (and most frequent) guests, appearing on the show 32 times.Heck, "Late Night" once did one of its rerun theme weeks, airing nothing but episodes that featured Garr.

But since Letterman moved to CBS, Garr has appeared infrequently - very infrequently. This was only her second appearance in some 31/2 years.

The explanation for this could well have come a couple of months back when Letterman appeared as a guest on "The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder." He said that "things that aren't true that are written about me . . . continue to upset me."

He referred specifically to an incident that was widely reported and was, in fact, a part of Bill Carter's book "The Late Shift." About how, during a commercial break in one of Garr's appearances on "Late Night," he wrote her a note that read, "I wish I was dead."

That exchange was included as part of HBO's "Late Shift" cable movie, although - rather oddly - Sandra Bernhard (as herself) replaced Garr.

The incident has been widely viewed as the ultimate example of how Letterman is incredibly self-critical and never happy with his own performance. The late-night host, on the other hand, offered Snyder a much different interpretation of the event.

"Like 100 years ago, Teri Garr's on the old show, and we're bantering back and forth . . . and I made a very cheap, very uncharacteristic double-entendre sexual reference about Teri," Letterman said, "just because I needed to have some kind of a joke. I needed a laugh, we were going to commercial.

"The audience hoots, the audience explodes. And of course, I'm embarrassed, I'm chagrined because I felt that the attempt had been untoward."

Unable to make himself heard over the band, "during the commercial break, I write a note to her which said `I wish I was dead,' meaning `I express to you my embarrassment and chagrin over this faux pas,' Letterman said.

The normally unflappable late-night host - who usually deflects anything that bothers him with a joke - appeared annoyed.

"So now it's about how I have a death wish. I have a death wish because I'm trying to do something gentlemanly for her," he said with great annoyance. "Oh, he hates himself. Here's proof how much he hates himself - he wishes he were dead. Well . . . you either get it or you don't."

Letterman also seemed at least a bit irked at Garr for telling the story - for "shooting off her mouth" - to begin with.

And it will be interesting to see how long it will be before she's invited back again.