Dorothy Mengering—known to millions of Late Night and Late Show fans as Dave Letterman’s mom—has died. Usually referred to simply as “Dave’s Mom,” Mengering was a staple of her son’s comedy antics, featuring in Top Ten lists, cooking segments, and, most notably, as the Late Show’s Winter Olympics correspondent.
An Indiana homemaker who worked in her husband’s flower shop and served as the secretary for her church, Mengering’s Midwestern wholesomeness stood in sharp contrast to her son’s comedy anarchist sensibilities. A surface reading of her appearances might even suggest a level of mean-spirited joking on Letterman’s part; a mockery of Dorothy’s polite but unpolished delivery, or a declaration of Letterman’s own comic self-indulgence. But that reading would miss the truth of Dorothy’s regular player status, which becomes obvious as you look through clips of her appearances: Letterman loved his mom, and thought she was funny as hell.
Nowhere was that delight clearer than in clips from 1994, when Letterman sent Dorothy to Lillehammer, Norway, to report back on the Winter Olympics. Part of the fun is the absurdity of watching a tiny Indiana senior cross-country ski, talk to the world’s greatest athletes, and even rub elbows with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. But it’s also clear that both Letterman and his mom get a kick out of each other, and out of Dorothy’s chance to travel around the world. There, as ever, she was always game to play along, rattling off whatever silly jokes her son and his writers had whipped up for her annual Thanksgiving Day appearances.
Dorothy was absent from Late Show’s last few years, due to her advancing age. (She was 95 when she died earlier today.) But Letterman paid tribute to her back in 2015, with a montage capturing some of her most enjoyable moments on the show.