During a guest shot on Friday's "Live! With Regis and Kelly," the CBS late-night star said his behavior was stupid and reckless, and that it hurt his family and himself. But he sounded hopeful that life with his wife and young son can "even be better, in a different way" than before the explosive revelations that he had had sex with female "Late Show" co-workers.
"You take a look at the explosion," Letterman said, "and it knocks you down and you wake up every morning and you're scared and you're depressed and sad.
"And you kind of got to let that knock you down and knock you down, and then pretty soon you've got to start knocking IT down. And then, when that happens, you start looking at the pieces left of your life."
These reflections came at the end of a multisegment appearance on the syndicated daytime show - his first visit with co-hosts Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa in four years.
"How's everything at home?" Philbin asked, to which Letterman replied, deadpan, "I don't know if people know about this, but I've had some trouble."
The studio audience roared.
Letterman made no reference to the $2 million shakedown attempt to expose his sex life that spurred him to reveal the affairs during an extraordinary monologue on his show last October. He also made no specific mention of his wife, Regina Lasko, whom he married last year. They began dating in 1986 and have a 6-year-old son.
Though Letterman was joining a roster of other big names lined up to visit "Live!" during the May ratings sweep period, his timing also seemed to conveniently coincide with the scheduled sentencing next week of former television producer Robert Halderman, who has pleaded guilty to the blackmail attempt against Letterman. Letterman participated in a sting that led to Halderman's arrest.
Most of Letterman's "Live!" appearance was spent swapping praise and chitchat with his old friend Philbin.
Letterman poked fun at the recent eruption of the late-night wars that led to "Tonight Show" host Conan O'Brien being pushed out by the reinstated Jay Leno, who is again Letterman's NBC rival.
He called Leno, whom he has known since 1975, a once-skilled standup comic but also "a bit of a knockwurst - you know what I mean?"
He mocked Leno's January appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." He mimicked Leno's squeaky voice declaring, "No one should blame Conan for this."
"Well, Jay, no one's blaming Conan for anything, for God's sake," Letterman cracked. "Conan went to NBC and said, 'Can I have Jay's job?' And they said, 'Sure.' How do you blame Conan for that? 'Yeah, well, Conan and I both got screwed.' Wait a minute! How did you both get screwed? He got canceled, YOU got the show! How did you BOTH get screwed?
"So I found it wildly entertaining," Letterman said.
"In the meantime," Ripa chuckled, "who knew your Jay Leno imitation was so brilliant!"
By Frazier Moore