Larry King to Hang Up His Suspenders After 25 Years

In an announcement that ricocheted throughout the media world Tuesday, venerable talk show host Larry King said he will be stepping down after 25 years of hosting CNN's "Larry King Live."

"It's time to hang up my nightly suspenders," King said in a message via Twitter.

Later in the day, he released a more fleshed-out statement that he also read at the top of his primetime show.

"Before I start the show tonight, I want to share some personal news with you," he said. "Twenty-five years ago, I sat across this table from New York Governor Mario Cuomo for the first broadcast of 'Larry King Live.'

"Now, decades later, I talked to the guys here at CNN and I told them I would like to end 'Larry King Live,' the nightly show, this fall and CNN has graciously accepted, to agree to giving me more time for my wife and I to get to the kids' little league games."

VIDEO: After 25 years, Larry King decides to end his show to focus on his family.Play
Larry King to Hang Up Suspenders

He added that after leaving in the fall, he will remain affiliated with the cable news network in a more limited capacity, hosting the occasional special.

King's guest Tuesday evening was his friend, the comedian and talk show host Bill Maher, who alluded to media gossip that King was being pushed out of the job against his will.

"I hope you're doing this of your own volition," Maher said to King.

"There was no pressure from CNN," King replied, adding that he has conducted an estimated 50,000 interviews in a broadcasting career that has spanned five decades. "It was time, Bill. It was time."

Not everyone sees the situation in the same light.

"CNN has made it clear there's not a lot of future for him there and I think he wanted to go out on his own steam with his head held high," Tammy Haddad, a former executive producer on the program, told ABC News.

And indeed, King, whose contract is set to expire in 2011, has seen his show plummet in ratings lately: "Larry King Live" had an average of 653,000 viewers each night in May, its lowest average since the data started being electronically stored in the early 1990s, according to The Nielsen Company.

Still, CNN/U.S. president Jonathan Klein said in an e-mail message to staffers that King "is not leaving CNN" and is ending the show "on his own terms."

King, 76, a former radio host from Brooklyn, is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest running show with the same host in the same time slot on the same network.

King got his start as a radio host in 1957 in Miami Beach, where he'd frequently hobnob with the jet set of the day: Jackie Gleason, Bobby Darin and Lenny Bruce would all appear on a program he hosted from a restaurant called Pumpernick's, according to King biographer Peter Occhiogrosso.

"He led the life. He bet on the horses a lot, got into some gambling debts and things like that," Occhiogrosso told ABC News. "He liked the action and he liked not knowing what was going to happen."

King's interviewing style famously eschews any rigorous preparation. Occhiogrosso says King prefers knowing as little about his guest as his audiences do, using a frank and downhome approach that attracted guests who would otherwise not do television interviews.

Ever since debuting on the fledgling CNN in 1985, his show has been a cross-section of A-list political and entertainment celebrity interviews and conversations with crackpots and conspiracy theorists. On the week in which he celebrated his 25th anniversary, he spoke to basketball star LeBron James, Bill Gates, President Barack Obama and Lady Gaga.

In 1993, when King paired Al Gore and Ross Perot for a debate about NAFTA, he set a cable news ratings record that still stands: 16.3 million viewers.

"He helped change the course of an election in 1992 with Ross Perot, getting him to announce his campaign on his show," says Haddad, his former producer. "He was the first talk show host on cable news who proved you could get an audience with interviews and talking about news."

King, who repeatedly remarked on Tuesday's show that he wanted to spend more time with his family, had also recently been having widely publicized difficulties with his seventh wife, Shawn Southwick.

King filed for divorce from Southwick, 50, April 14 in Los Angeles Superior Court, citing "irreconcilable differences" and asking for joint custody of their children.

But a week later the two were said to be back together and in counseling. In May 2010, Southwick overdosed on prescription pills.

Whatever the reason for his departure, King has said that if it were up to him, American Idol emcee Ryan Seacrest would be his choice to fill his shoes, according to The Associated Press. Earlier this month the New York Post reported that CBS anchorwoman Katie Couric, whose own contract is set to expire, is not interested in King's job. Also widely speculated as a potential replacement is Piers Morgan, the former tabloid newspaper editor and winner of Celebrity Apprentice.

Whoever ends up in King's chair, one thing is clear: he or she will have a mighty large pair of suspenders to fill.