Veteran CNN talk show host Larry Kingsigned off for the last time after 25 years in the same seat, in an emotional show including tributes from presidents and broadcasting rivals.
The 77-year-old, who will be succeeded by former British journalist Piers Morgan, is finally retiring from “Larry King Live,” the show he has presented on the now flagging Atlanta-based news network since 1985.
President Barack Obama on Thursday sent him a video message calling him “one of the giants of broadcasting,” while a brace of rival TV hosts and anchors including Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric paid tribute.
Sawyer said they were his “proteges and groupies,” while Couric read out a poem including a reference to a notorious King gaffe when he asked comedian Jerry Seinfeld about his show being cancelled — it had ended with top ratings.
California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger came on to announce that he had proclaimed the day Larry King Day in the western US state.
While critics say his interviewing style can be too soft-soap, others argue that’s why King got so many people to come on his show, winning scoops that some credit with helping establish CNN in its early days.
But the network that once dominated 24-hour international news has struggled with dwindling audiences and fierce new competitors, and King’s replacement by the more aggressive Morgan is seen as part of an effort to woo new viewers.
An ad for the younger Briton’s new show, in a break on the last hour-long King tribute-fest, promised an exciting “and slightly dangerous” new program — something few would claim for King’s nightly show.
Born Larry Zeiger in Brooklyn, the CNN icon has become one of the most recognizable figures on US television, after previously anchoring a national radio show for seven years.
Over the decades the gravel-voiced broadcaster has quizzed everyone who is anyone on his nightly program, including every US president since Gerald Ford.
Other highlights included Playboy founder Hugh Hefner with a bevvy of Playmate girlfriends; Mike Tyson interviewed inside the boxing ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas; and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
King’s private life has been almost as storied as his on-screen career: in April he filed for divorce from his seventh wife Shawn Southwick, citing “irreconcilable differences.”
Although Southwick was King’s seventh wife, it was the eighth time he had filed for a divorce. He was twice married and divorced to Alene Akins, with whom he split in 1972.
As his final show progressed Thursday, former president Bill Clinton came on from Little Rock, Arkansas, to exchange some fond repartee with the veteran interviewer.
When King mentioned that “We’re both in the zipper club” — and explained that he meant they had both had heart surgery — Clinton replied: “I’m glad you clarified that,” keeping a straight face as others chuckled.
King plans to do regular special shows for CNN, as well as radio work and watching more baseball. Clinton commented: “I’m kinda like you, I have to keep working.
“I don’t know that it keeps me young, but at least it keeps me out of the grave,” he said.
King’s emotions started to show only when he brought his wife and two young sons on at the end, before his final words straight to camera, voice breaking: “Instead of goodbye, how about so long?”