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Larry King ends his record-setting run on CNN

By Michael Martinez, CNN
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Larry King: 25 years of making news
  • Larry King amassed 6,120 shows in CNN's archives over 25 years
  • He fought back tears several times and ended his show with "instead of a goodbye, how about so long"
  • King will next work on special projects for CNN

Hollywood, California (CNN) -- Larry King, America's interviewer-in-chief, ended his record-setting career as CNN's prime-time, talk-show host Thursday night with a serenade from Tony Bennett, a greeting from President Obama and a "Larry King Day" proclamation from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Those guests and others capped his 25-year run behind the microphone with CNN.

"Welcome to the last 'Larry King Live.' It's hard to say that," King said in his opening remarks to his last show.

He was joined on the set by comedian Bill Maher and television host Ryan Seacrest.

On several occasions, King stifled tears, especially when Maher put King in the same company as TV legends Johnny Carson, Steve Allen and Walter Cronkite.

"This is not Larry's funeral," Maher interjected early in the show. "Larry is hopefully going to be in our living rooms for years to come. This is the end of a show, not the end of a man."

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King wore his signature suspenders -- a pair of red ones with a red-and-white polka-dot tie over a black shirt.

At end of his hourlong broadcast, King became choked up with his final sentences.

"It's not very often in my life that I've been without words," King said. He thanked his staff and producers.

"When I started 25 years ago in a little studio in Washington, D.C., I never thought it would last this long or come to this," King said. "I'm going to do specials on CNN and do radio work ... so you're not going to see me go away, but you're not going to see me on this set any more.

"I don't know what to say, except to you my audience, thank you. And instead of goodbye, how about so long?" King concluded.

His set then went black -- except for a spotlight illuminating his chrome microphone.

In his overall 53 years in broadcasting, King amassed 50,000 interviews, 6,120 shows in CNN's archives, 10 Cable ACE Awards, an Emmy, a Peabody and an entry in the Guinness World Records for having the longest-running show with the same host in the same time slot.

Among the guests on the last show was Schwarzenegger, who appeared by a satellite transmission from the capital of Sacramento. The governor extended congratulations and displayed the written proclamation declaring Thursday as belonging to King.

"Thank you," King said, adding this quip: "and keep this in mind: I'll be back."

King will be working on special projects for CNN.

In a pre-recorded videotaped message, President Obama called King "one of the giants in broadcasting."

"You say all that you do is ask questions, but for generations of Americans, the answers to those questions have surprised us and they have informed us," Obama said.

From a studio in New York, talk show host Regis Philbin tried to engage King in a song, but King was caught off guard.

"I lost the $500 question," King joked.

Joining Philbin in New York was Donald Trump.

"You shouldn't be leaving anything, Larry," Trump said. "Nobody ever did it better."

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Also in New York was comic Fred Armisen, who dressed up exactly like King and then started interviewing him.

"Now Larry," Armisen said, "what has been my favorite interview?"

King: "You know you've done so many, it's hard to pick one out."

Armisen: "Larry, what is the most interesting thing about me."

King: "The most interesting about you is you're a little whacko."

Armisen: "What question have you asked more than any?"

King: "Why. You see the best question of all, Lar, is why. Because it can't be answered in one word and it forces the person to think."

Armisen: "Besides holding up my pants, why do I wear suspenders?"

King: "I will not stop wearing them. No matter what I do in life, the suspenders will remain."

News anchors Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer, and Brian Williams joined talk show host Barbara Walters in extending farewells. They were also telecasted from a set in New York.

"We are your protégés, your groupies," Sawyer said, giving King a pair of suspenders embroidered with the four guests' and King's names.

"All of us have done heads of state" interviews, Walters said. "No one has done more than you."

After King moved the conversation to Williams, Williams remarked: "You've just done what scores of network executives have been unable to do. You just snatched airtime from Barbara Walters."

Couric read from a poem she wrote for King, in which one verse went:

"You made NAFTA exciting and that's hard to do.

"And you scored the Paris Hilton post-jail interview," Couric recited.

Former president Bill Clinton, who just returned from a visit to Haiti and was in Little Rock, Arkansas, said he admired King's work ethic. Clinton had appeared 28 times on King's show.

"I'm like you," Clinton said in a live feed from Arkansas. "I have to keep working. I don't know if it keeps me young, but it keeps me out of the grave."

Seacrest read from a letter written to King from the Rev. Billy Graham, who wrote: "You will be greatly missed in my evening routine."

Talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw joined the Hollywood set toward the end of the show and asked King how he felt.

King turned the question on McGraw: "How am I doing?"

"With grace," McGraw said.

"You never like to be the center of attention," McGraw later said. "You ask short questions." Turning to Seacrest and Maher, he added: "He told me years ago, if it's more than 2 sentences, it's too long."

King was then joined by his wife, Shawn, and two sons, Chance, 11, and Cannon, 10, to hear Tony Bennett sing "Best is Yet to Come" from Lake Charles, Louisiana.

"How about them apples," King said afterwards.

"Thanks for all the great interviews you've given us, Larry," Bennett said.

Chance said he looked forward to seeing more of his father.

Cannon then stole the show momentarily with an uncanny impersonation of his father, as if he were talking to him and then his mother:

"Get in the car. I'm too old for this. I've done this for 50 years," Cannon said, with an entertaining imitation of King's gravelly voice. "Stop doing your makeup. This is the last show. We're going to be late."

When King ended his last show and the airtime moved on to Anderson Cooper for his show, the anchor summarized: "a remarkable moment and a remarkable man."