King, 77, said this summer he would leave. Once the dominant voice on cable television news, King has faded in a sea of sharp talkers. British talk-show host and "America's Got Talent" judge Piers Morgan takes over the 9 p.m. Eastern time slot in January.
"Good evening, and welcome to the last `Larry King Live,"' he said as the show opened Thursday. "It's hard to say that. I knew this day was coming. These words are not easy to say."
He was joined at his table by Ryan Seacrest and Bill Maher, who have both filled in for King during breaks in the past. The first guest, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, declared it "Larry King Day" in his state and thanked King for doing his show from Los Angeles.
Maher tried not to let the show quickly become maudlin.
"This is not Larry's funeral," he said. "He's hopefully going to be in our living rooms for a lot of years to come. This is the end of a show, not the end of a man."
King has conducted some 50,000 interviews in a broadcasting career where he worked for decades in radio before joining CNN in 1985. He's recorded more than 6,000 shows for CNN.
Before Fox News Channel and MSNBC even existed, King was cable news' top-rated program. Politicians, entertainers, leaders of industry and the faces of news stories hot in the moment all sat across the table from King. Some critics said he often seemed ill-prepared and tossed softballs, while King described his style as "minimalist," with the goal of getting his guests to talk.
Rival MSNBC saluted King by buying an ad in USA Today on Thursday, calling King "one of a kind." "Larry, thank you for everything you've done to advance cable news," the ad read.
Others were less nostalgic: The Los Angeles Times website posted videos of King's most embarrassing moments, including when he asked an incredulous Jerry Seinfeld whether NBC had canceled his top-rated comedy.
It's been a muted exit for King, with CNN touting Morgan's upcoming show in ads more than King's. Even as the end neared, King finished fourth in his time slot for Tuesday's interview with the Judds, behind Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and CNN sister network HLN's Joy Behar. King interviewed Barbra Streisand on Wednesday night.
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