LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Larry King, the CNN personality known for his nonconfrontational interviews, colorful suspenders and complicated personal life, said on Tuesday he would end his talk show in the fall after a 25-year reign as a key promotional stop for the rich and famous.
King, 76, said he wanted to spend more time with his family. His seventh wife reportedly attempted suicide earlier this month after the couple said in April they would divorce.
But his show, “Larry King Live,” is regularly beaten in the ratings, and his eclectic guest list often confounds viewers. CNN, which had been broadcasting for only five years when King signed on, has also lost viewers to Fox News and MSNBC.
The New York Times recently reported that his average nightly audience has been cut in half since the last presidential election in 2008, to just 725,000 viewers.
King, whose contract was due to expire in June 2011, said he would still host specials for CNN.
“With this chapter closing I’m looking forward to the future and what my next chapter will bring, but for now it’s time to hang up my nightly suspenders,” he told viewers.
King began his career as a journalist and radio broadcaster in Florida before being wooed by CNN to host the nightly TV talk show in 1985.
He said his first interview was then-New York Governor Mario Cuomo, and since then his guests have included a who’s who of world leaders, celebrities and other newsmakers of varying import. One of his biggest scoops was in 1992, when Texas billionaire Ross Perot came on the show to announce a presidential run.
King recently hosted a telethon to raise money for victims of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and his show is a vital port of call for troubled celebrities, such as R&B star Chris Brown, seeking redemption.
His softball questions are often pilloried by critics, but his style also helps attract wary stars, such as Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, who know that they won’t have to discuss any challenging issues.
Tuesday’s program included comedian Bill Maher and U.S. General David Petraeus, the recently appointed head of military operations in Afghanistan.
King is a member of the Radio Hall of Fame and Broadcasters Hall of Fame, while “Larry King Live” is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest running show with the same host in the same time slot.
But in recent months, King’s marriage to Shawn Southwick, 50, has run into trouble. In April, the pair said they would be divorcing, but about a month later, the two decided to reunite and work on their problems.
In June, Southwick attempted suicide at her home in Utah by overdosing on prescription drugs, according to a police report detailing the incident.
“I talked to the guys here at CNN and told them I would like to end ‘Larry King Live,’ the nightly show, this fall and CNN has graciously accepted, giving me more time for my wife and I to get to the kids’ little league games,” King said in his statement.
King and Southwick, who were married in 1997, have two young sons, Chance and Cannon. King has been married eight times, previously. He married one of his wives, twice.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Dean Goodman