Jimmy Fallon made an emotional return to the “Tonight Show” with some help from Taylor Swift Monday one week after the death of his beloved mother, Gloria.
Gloria died Nov. 4 at 68, and the comedian subsequently took a week off from his late-night hosting gig to spend time with his family.
His return to the stage kicked off with a tribute to his late mother, whom Fallon called “the best audience.”
“When we were little, my mom would walk us to this store, me and my sister, and we would hold hands, she would squeeze my hand three times and say, ‘I love you,’ and I would squeeze back, ‘I love you, too,'” Fallon recalled as he choked back tears.
“Last week I was in the hospital and I grabbed her hand and squeezed I love you. I just knew we were in trouble, you know?… We’re going to continue to work really hard to bring some light and laughter into the world. Mom, I’ll never stop trying to make you laugh. I love you,” he said.
The touching tribute was capped off with a surprise appearance by Taylor Swift, who performed “New Year’s Day,” the closing track off her new album “Reputation.”
The sweet track was a poignant choice, as its lyrics reflect the anecdote Fallon shared earlier in the show.
“Tonight Show” writer and producer Mike DiCenzo offered some insight into Swift’s appearance on Twitter, explaining that she was not scheduled to perform, but the crew wanted to do something special for Fallon, and Swift quickly got on board.
“She sang ‘New Year’s Day.’ No one had heard it. Suddenly she sings the line, ‘Squeeze my hand 3 times in the back of the taxi.’ I nearly gasped. Tears. I think everyone in the audience started sobbing,” he wrote. “I could see Jimmy silhouetted at his desk dabbing his eyes with a tissue. We all lost it. It was a beautiful coincidence in a beautiful performance. ‘Hold on to your memories, they will hold on to you,’ Taylor sang.”
DiCenzo also said production edited out a minute of the show to leave room for Fallon high-fiving members of the audience, because that was his mother’s favorite part.