Skip to main content

CNN broadcasting legend Larry King to step down

By the CNN Wire Staff
Click to play
'I would like to end Larry King Live'
  • NEW: King likes Seacrest as a possible replacement
  • King has interviewed every U.S. president since Richard Nixon
  • By one count, King has interviewed more than 50,000 people
  • Says Nelson Mandela was most extraordinary person he has met

Editor's note: Read a statement from Larry King at his CNN blog. Also read the Top 25 Moments from "Larry King Live."

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Larry King, the iconic TV interviewer, will step aside from hosting of his prime time CNN show later this year, he said Tuesday.

King, 76, made the announcement with a short posting to his Twitter account, citing his desire to spend more time with his wife and young children.

"I want to share some personal news with you. 25 years ago, I sat across this table from New York Governor Mario Cuomo for the first broadcast of Larry King Live. Now, decades later, I talked to the guys here at CNN and I told them I would like to end Larry King Live, the nightly show, this fall and CNN has graciously accepted, giving me more time for my wife and I to get to the kids' little league games," King wrote.

"I'm incredibly proud that we recently made the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest running show with the same host in the same time slot. With this chapter closing I'm looking forward to the future and what my next chapter will bring, but for now it's time to hang up my nightly suspenders."

"He will end his run with Larry King Live on his own terms, sometime this fall," said Jon Klein, president of CNNUS. "Larry is a beloved member of the CNN family and will continue to contribute to our air with periodic specials."

During his Tuesday night show, King told guest Bill Maher "there's a freedom" that came with his decision.

Video: 'No pressure' from CNN or media
  • Larry King
  • Larry King Live
  • Media
  • Talk Shows
  • Television

"I want to expand," King told the comedian. "I want to do other things that I haven't been able to do."

The idea to step aside came to him after he completed his week-long 25th anniversary celebration, he said.

"I'm thinking to myself, I've done 50,000 interviews," he said. "I'm never going to top this."

King said he would exit the host's chair "maximum November." But, he told Maher, "Then I'll be doing specials. You'll see me in other places."

Asked whom he wants to replace him, King cited "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest. "He's curious, he's interesting, he's likable," King said. "If he has a great interest in politics, I would recommend him. But I'm sure there's a ton of people who could do it. Come on. It's Q and A."

"It's not easy," Maher responded. "That's the trick."

In a telephone call to the program, former first lady Nancy Reagan told King, "I couldn't let you do this without my calling you. You didn't call me and ask my permission."

King said he had made no plans about his future, but added, "I'm looking forward -- I feel open to so many things. Life will be better."

ABC News Anchor Diane Sawyer chimed in: "I just want to say, Larry, what a monument of vitality you have built for all of us and I cannot wait to see your specials because everybody in the world wants to talk to you and to see you do them in a concentrated way -- when you choose to do them it's going to be a thrill."

King's decision followed months of media speculation about his future as his ratings declined.

King was hosting a nationally syndicated overnight radio talk show when CNN founder Ted Turner persuaded him in 1985 to try his interviewing skills on cable TV.

"All I had to do was everything I'd been doing since I was a kid," he wrote in his best-selling 2009 autobiography, "My Remarkable Journey."

His gentle but persistent interview style drew big-name guests, and "Larry King Live" became a place for major personalities to break news. Billionaire Ross Perot used the show to announce he was running for president in 1992. And the show was the setting for the historic NAFTA debate between then-Vice President Al Gore and Perot in 1993, a debate that for more than a decade was the highest-rated program in cable history.

King, who was initially based in Washington, became a mandatory stop for politicians. Over his career, he conducted sit-down interviews with every U.S. president since Richard Nixon.

His program was sometimes a place of real-time diplomacy. In 1995, he hosted a program on the Middle East Peace process with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

His suspenders, large glasses and vintage desk microphone are as recognizable as the countless celebrities lined up to have an intimate chat with King while the world listened in.

And there have been a lot of guests, including Marlon Brando, Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Paul McCartney, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, L. Ron Hubbard, Madonna and Martin Luther King, Jr.

After extensive coverage over many months of O.J. Simpson's trial for murder, Simpson himself called the program the night he was acquitted.

King says that Nelson Mandela was the most extraordinary person he has met.

In his autobiography, King confessed that he never plans a question, that he likes to be surprised by the answers. He says he asks his interview subjects to explain things.

"All I do is ask questions," he wrote. "Short, simple questions."

Born in Brooklyn, Larry Zeiger moved to Miami, Florida, in 1957. He began his radio career that year with a new name, Larry King. His first television job was hosting a local interview show in Miami in 1960.

While some critics have called King a throwback, he embraced the online social networking tool Twitter. He had 1,648,920 Twitter followers as of Tuesday.

On Monday, King used Twitter to respond to a fan's question about the highlights of his career:

"Winning 2 Peabody Awards & an Emmy. Perot-Gore Debate a show highlight," King tweeted.

In addition to earning the Emmy and two Peabody Awards, he was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1992.

King also has an extensive film resume, having played himself in 20 movies.

King has suffered a decline in ratings. His show, which was once on top, sometimes has come in fourth among cable talk shows during the 9 p.m. hour.

King faced highly publicized personal problems this year. He and his eighth wife, Shawn Southwick-King, filed for divorce in April, but reconciled weeks later.

King has repeatedly talked about the importance of spending time with his children, including his two boys from his marriage with Southwick-King.

"I'd love to see Chance and Cannon talk about how their Dad took them to play when they were kids," he wrote in his autobiography.

After suffering a heart attack in 1987, King underwent quintuple bypass heart surgery. A year later, he created the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, which he said was to help those "not so lucky" to have medical insurance. In 2009, the foundation paid for 287 life-saving surgeries.

And through it all, the interviews continued.

"Only God failed to show up for a Larry King interview," said Tom Johnson, who was CNN's chairman for more than a decade, ending in 2001.

"Larry has been my close friend since I joined CNN in 1990," Johnson said. "We never had a single disagreement in my 11 years as CEO, although he never thought much of my suggestions for more shows about North Korea."

Is there anyone he would like to interview that he hasn't so far? For years, he joked in his autobiography, he answered that question "God."

"And my first question would be, 'Do you have a son? Because there's a lot riding on the answer.'"

CNN's Alan Duke contributed to this story.