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An emotional end to 'Rescue Me' for outspoken star Denis Leary

Jimi Hendrix never won a Grammy, Richard Burton got shut out at the Oscars and Denis Leary still doesn't have a freakin' Emmy.

If that doesn't sound like a pop-culture felony, then you haven't been watching "Rescue Me," TV's sharpest, angriest and most underrated drama, returning at 10 tonight on FX (and repeating at midnight) for the first of its final 19 episodes. (Ten will air this summer; the rest in 2011.)

Leary, who co-created the series in which he stars as self-destructive firefighter Tommy Gavin, was touring with a couple of castmates in their stand-up concerts to benefit the Leary Firefighters Foundation.

Leary spoke recently about "The Sopranos," smoking and spirits the day after filming the series' finale.

>How weird is it that you've just finished the series, but the last episode won't air until next summer? I'm not sure that's ever been done before.

Well, "The Sopranos" kind of did that. Best series ever. I'm friends with a lot of people on that show, and we successfully avoided talking about "The Sopranos" when we ran into them. I didn't want to overhear anything that was going to happen.

>How hard will it be for everyone to keep quiet about how it will all end for Tommy?

You would hope that the cast would keep their mouths shut, but there are a lot of extras in some huge scenes that may have seen things. The truth is, there's a twist in the last second of the final episode that's both dramatic and funny. Originally, I wanted Tommy to die during the run of the show and for the first time in TV history, the part of the dead guy would actually get bigger. He would come back and haunt the other characters. The network was totally against it.

>How did you know that this was the time to end the series?

My partner, Peter (Tolan), has been around a long time. He did "Larry Sanders," which went away before we were really ready for it to end. We wanted to do the same thing here, get out while we're ahead of the game. Plus, the series was born from the tragedy of 9/1 1, and next year will be the 10th anniversary of that event. It feels really natural to end it then.

I don't want to spend much time talking about Peter. He's got five Emmys and I've got none. I've thought about going to his house or Michael J. Fox's house and stealing one. (Fox's guest-star appearance last season earned "Rescue Me" its sole Emmy.) Two years from now, you can come over to my house and you won't remember that I actually didn't win one. I'll say, "You don't remember my acceptance speech when I thanked Rue McClanahan and Gary Coleman?"

>What is the deal with the Emmys?

I would love to have an Emmy. Who wouldn't? But it really has been an honor to be considered. If they do nominate us again, I know where the secret table is where they keep the awards. It's on the way to the smoking area. I'll just grab one from there.

>Where do you smoke in L.A.? It's almost impossible to find anywhere to go.

You want to be with me, brother. I smoke everywhere, except airplanes. I just light up. I learned that from Peter Falk. We were doing a movie together and he told me that he smokes at Lakers games. He said that by the time the kid comes over and tells you that you can't smoke, he's already gotten five hits off it. The second time you do it, just tell the kid that you forgot.

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