King, 77, was serenaded by Tony Bennett singing The Best Is Yet to Come via videolink.
The dean of American talk show hosts had announced this summer he would leave, ushered out by a struggling network. Once the dominant voice in cable television news, King has faded in a sea of sharp talkers. British talk show host and talent show judge Piers Morgan takes over the time slot in January.
“You’re not going to see me go away, but you’re not going to see me on this set anymore,” King said.
“I don’t know what to say except to you, my audience, thank you, and instead of goodbye, how about so long?”
Except for an agreement to host four specials a year at CNN, it’s not clear what his work future holds. He has spoken of doing comedy, or going back to radio.
A parade of guests stopped by, including news anchors Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters and Brian Williams, who were in CNN’s New York studio. President Barack Obama delivered a taped message and former president Bill Clinton made his 29th appearance on the show, via videolink from Arkansas.
“You say that all you do is ask questions,” Obama said. “But for generations of Americans, the answers to these questions have surprised us, they’ve informed us, and they’ve opened our eyes to the world beyond our living rooms.”
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared to thank King for moving his show from Washington to Los Angeles, and to declare it “Larry King Day” in his state.
King’s wife Shawn and sons Chance and Cannon appeared on set. Chance, in particular, injected some levity with an impersonation of his father, including the Brooklyn accent.
King has conducted 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.
Politicians, entertainers, leaders of industry all sat across the table from King. Some critics said he often seemed ill-prepared, while King described his style as “minimalist”, with the goal of getting his guests to talk.