CNN's Larry King says he'll retire as talk-show host

Larry King, CNN's iconic talk show host, hung up his suspenders Thursday after 25 years in the interviewer's chair.
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Larry King was flying home from Akron three weeks ago, having just capped his 25th anniversary at CNN by interviewing basketball superstar LeBron James, when it hit him.

"You know," he recalls thinking, having also done sit-downs with President Obama, Bill Gates and Lady Gaga, "I ain't gonna top this. It's been a helluva run."

King announced Tuesday night that he is hanging up his suspenders as a nightly host, bowing to the reality of plummeting ratings that had eroded his stature as a television institution. "I'm glad it happened on my terms," he said in an interview. "I have mixed emotions. . . . A nightly show is a tough grind."

The onetime radio host has interviewed an endless parade of presidents, monarchs and celebrities using an average-guy-from-Brooklyn approach, one that felt increasingly old-school in an era of opinionated programs on the right and left. King lost nearly half his audience over the past year but said that did not persuade him to call it quits.

"You always feel bad when there's a ratings decline," he said. "I never felt any pressure. CNN never pressured me."

CNN President Jon Klein said that King initiated the discussions. "When you put the ratings in the perspective of 25 years of shows, they are insignificant," Klein said, adding that he is pleased King will continue to do periodic specials for the network.

King "really put cable television on the map," he added. "He was one of the first superstars of cable and got millions of Americans accustomed to tuning in to the higher channels. It's all driven by his passion for talking to people."

When King gave viewers the news at 9 p.m. -- boasting that his longevity had landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records -- he said more than once, "It was time." Such luminaries as Nancy Reagan, Diane Sawyer and Regis Philbin phoned in with congratulations.

The announcement that "Larry King Live" will end this fall comes as his seventh wife, Shawn Southwick, is recovering from a drug overdose. The couple had announced they were splitting up, but they now are attempting to reconcile.

"She's better now," King said. "It's been a rough go. We're working it out." He said his family troubles were not a factor in giving up the host's chair: "I'd have made this decision if I was divorced, single, married."

CNN has been under enormous pressure to boost its prime-time ratings, and speculation has run rampant that King might step down next year and be replaced by personalities ranging from Katie Couric to British journalist Piers Morgan.

Asked whether he had a short list of potential successors, Klein said: "There aren't an infinite number of people who could do this, but there are a number of them." He said he hadn't wanted to begin negotiations with anyone until King made a decision about his future.

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