The Night Shift: Now A Serious Word or Two From Russell Crowe (Video)

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Wednesday night’s Late Show With David Letterman started predictably enough: A couple jokes about Conan, about George W. Bush’s new book, about the cruise ship stranded out at sea.

Then Russell Crowe came on to talk about his new (and pretty good) movie The Next Three Days. In the past, Crowe’s been a provocative headline maker, perhaps most infamously lashing out at a New York hotel clerk, which led him to pursue a plea deal, admitting the assault in open court. He’s a firebrand, a live wire. Yet on the Late Show, in a blunt 7-minute discussion, Crowe waxed serious about the dangers of smoking. Videos after the jump.

It was hard to tell, as the discussion unfolded, which point was more serious: That he started smoking when he was only ten years old, that he knew he needed to quit when he found his son watching him puff away in horror, that at his peak he was going through 60 cigarettes a day…or that the night before the interview, he had fallen off the wagon, smoking after drinking wine, negating months of an anti-tobacco battle.

This is the official video posted on the Late Show website, which skews softer and sillier, with Crowe talking about one day where he – still a young kid – accidentally lit his clothes on fire:


It’s sad that this is all CBS is currently making available, because the conversation skewed far more sober, and sobering, after that.

Here’s a YouTube upload of the full smoking conversation (that is bound to be removed soon):


There’s an irony to this conversation, which took place on the same day that the FDA unveiled plans to issue a new wave of graphic smoking labels on cigarette packaging.

Once upon a time, the movie star would have been smoking opposite the late night host while on the air, looking dapper and dignified, projecting to all fathers and sons out there in TV Land that this was how the rich and powerful carried themselves. But in 2010, it’s no longer a laughing matter, and the seriousness of last night’s conversation – which was surely dreamt up as semi-playful banter – was palpable. The applause line was that Crowe had quit. But then he had to admit failure the night before, and things grew very quiet.

60 cigarettes day? The audience sounded shocked. Given chewing tobacco as a quitting aid? You could even hear some gasps.

It was the most dramatic moment of Wednesday’s late night shows, an unpredictable back and forth that made you look at Crowe just a little bit differently.