Tracy Morgan says his very last memory of the night he was nearly killed when a Wal-Mart truck rear-ended his limo is a happy one of the friend who didn’t survive.
Through tears that sometimes seemed stained with survivor’s guilt, Morgan said the only memory of the horrific accident on the New Jersey Turnpike that put him a coma for weeks and through a year’s worth of rehab are the ones scene in TV news coverage.
The last image from that night -- exactly one year ago this coming Sunday -- is his 62-year-old pal and mentor James McNair’s victorious grin.
It was that smile that hits any artist when they know they’ve connected with their audience.
In a heart-tugging eight minute interview with Today’s Matt Lauer, Morgan broke down several times when discussing McNair.
"The last time I saw Jimmy, Jimmy wrote a joke for me. It was a Donald Sterling joke. I asked him to come with me the day before and he said, 'I'll be there. I love you. Peace.' We went there and we did the show and I did the joke and everybody got applause breaks. And I looked to the side and I see Jimmy standing there laughing, and that was the last time I seen him alive."
Morgan was not the old madcap Tracy that his fans know.
He’s working on returning to that Morgan, or a variation of him, one day at time.
He sat next to his lawyer, Benedict Morelli, who helped secure a settlement with the retail giant a week ago.
The 46-year-old “30 Rock” superstar seemed a change man from his very first xchange with Lauer.
“You’re a sight for sore eyes,” Lauer told the SNL alum.
And he was.
“I can’t believe I’m here,” said Morgan who suffered s broken leg, multiple busted ribs, and traumatic brain injury. “I can't believe I'm in front of you."
“I can't believe I'm just here, and just seeing the tragedy that happened. It touches me."
Two other passengers in Morgan’s limo were also seriously injured that night.
“Bones heal,” Morgan told Lauer, “but the loss of my friend will never heal.”
The pain is always going to be there for Jimmy Mack. He was a close friend of mine, a comrade in comedy, and he was a loving man and he was a warm man," Morgan said. "It just hurts me to see that he's gone."
He learned McNair was dead weeks after the accident and weeks after McNair was buried.
He said he watched YouTube videos of the funeral to make up for not being there -- and of the accident to understand what happened.
“I had to know what happened to my friend.”
Morgan says things have been tough.
"I've been down," he admits. "I have my family, I have my wife Megan — we're about to be married —and my daughter and my son. They keep my spirits up.”
So do friends like Tina Fey, who he says regularly checks in.
As for the future, Morgan said, “I love comedy. I'll never stop loving her. And I can't wait to get back to her, but right now, my goal is just to heal and get better. Because I'm not 100 percent yet. I'm not.”
“And when I'm there, you'll know it. I'll get back to making you laugh. I promise you."