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"Good evening, and welcome to the last 'Larry King Live,'" the veteran newsman said to kick off the show. "It's hard to say that. I knew this day was coming. These words are not easy to say."
Having pledged earlier this summer to “hang up” his signature suspenders, King said Thursday he would keep clinging to them as he enters the next phase of his life.
King mostly steered clear of sentimentality, though he appeared visibly moved after tributes by Bill Clinton, President Obama (who taped a statement), a live performance of “The Best is Yet to Come” by Tony Bennett, and a roundtable of fellow broadcast news titans Katie Couric, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer and Brian Williams.
“American Idol” and radio personality Ryan Seacrest and the comedian Bill Maher were also on hand for the entire hour.
"This is not Larry's funeral," Maher said at the outset, a reminder that King still plans to tape specials for CNN. “This is the end of a show, not the end of the man.”
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also appeared via satellite to declare it officially “Larry King Day” in the Golden State.
“I’ll be back,” King shot back at the “Terminator” star.
Another highlight was “SNL” comedian Fred Armisen appearing in studio dressed in the same red suspenders and polka dot tie as the CNN host. In his best King impression, Armisen proceeded to interview the newsman.
Asked which question he used the most over his career in journalism, King answered the word “why.”
“Because it can’t be answered in one word and it forces the person to think,” King explained, adding, “It’s also good if you’re not paying attention at the time.”
With “Larry King Live” beset by low ratings, CNN had mostly played down King’s final show. The network plans to air a series of re-runs until Piers Morgan, the “America’s Got Talent” host and onetime UK newspaper man, takes over.
Despite King's reputation for lobbing softball questions, guest after guest hammered home Thursday that King represented a rare and valuable civility in modern discourse.
Brian Williams likened his show to a national "confessional,” while the Rev. Bill Graham said in a letter that he'd miss tuning in every night.
In the end, King brought out his wife Shawn and their two children on stage to share his final moments.
Cannon King, 10, delivered a goofy, but dead-on King impression, while Chance, 11, said he looked forward to finally being able to spend more time with his dad.
Larry King, of course, had the last word and his voice quavered as he made it.
“I don’t know what to say except to you, my audience,” he said. “Thank you. Instead of goodbye, how about so long?”