US chat show host who sent 'coded messages' has restraining order lifted

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The Independent US

David Letterman, the doyen of American late-night chat show hosts, has had his share of fans with unhealthy fixations, but this one probably beats them all: a New Mexico woman who claims he has been sending her secret coded messages over the airwaves so incessantly that it constitutes "mental harassment and hammering".

Colleen Nestler, of Santa Fe, successfully applied for a restraining order two weeks ago forcing Mr Letterman to stay at least 100 yards from her. She alleged his subliminal messages - including, supposedly, an entreaty to marry him and become his co-host - had caused her sleep deprivation, pushed her into bankruptcy and inflicted general "mental cruelty".

Since Mr Letterman lives in Connecticut, about 2,000 miles from Santa Fe, the restraining order was not exactly a crimp on his day-to-day existence. But it did offend his sense of judicial fairness, so he sent his lawyers to the New Mexico courts this week to have it lifted. "Celebrities deserve protection of their reputation and legal rights when the occasional fan becomes dangerous or deluded," Mr Letterman's lawyer Pat Rogers said in a written motion to the court.

The judge granted the request, noting the original restraining order was granted merely as a matter of "proper pleading" - a legal term meaning the paperwork was filled out correctly, no more and no less.

Ms Nestler's original complaint fit right into a certain American paranoid subculture that has, in the past, embraced alien abductions and secret CIA chips inserted in people's heads. She said she had begun sending Mr Letterman love messages in 1993 and that he had responded with a suggestion that she move to the East Coast.

His marriage proposal supposedly came in a teaser for his show in which he said, jokingly, "Marry me, Oprah". According to Ms Nestler, Oprah was the first of many codenames he used for her. The code later became more sophisticated and complex.

Reacting to the failure of her restraining order on Tuesday, Ms Nestler told reporters she had achieved her purposes by alerting the public to the menace Mr Letterman supposedly represented. If he or his representatives tried to come near her, she said, "I will break their legs".

Like many celebrities, Mr Letterman has had fan trouble in the past. A Connecticut woman, Margaret Mary Ray, was arrested several times for stalking him over five years. This year, a former painter on Mr Letterman's Montana ranch was arrested on charges of plotting to kidnap his son and nanny. He was jailed for 10 years after pleading guilty to lesser charges.

Mr Letterman, 58, has been a mainstay of the late-night chat circuit since launching his irreverent Late Night With David Letterman in 1982. It made him an instant hit with college audiences, who have stuck with him as he - and they - have grown older. Since 1993, he has hosted the slightly staider Late Show.

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