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Larry King Stepping Down

After 25 years hosting a nightly talk show, CNN's Larry King says "it's time to hang up my nightly suspenders."After weeks of speculation triggered by that anniversary and sharply declining ratings, King's move — on his own terms, CNN says — ends his storied run on the struggling news network's signature show this fall.

At the top of Tuesday's broadcast, King, 76, told viewers he "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, giving me more time for my wife, and I to get to the kids' Little League games." But he promised regular news specials.

CNN chief Jonathan Klein credits King with "putting cable on the map" as a star interviewer, though the host "never really acted like the star. He showed the power of individual personality in cable," and on nascent CNN he "made it safe for viewers to venture into channels they had never explored before."

In 53 years on TV and radio, King has conducted about 50,000 interviews Among them: Paul McCartney, Bette Davis, Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Madonna and Malcolm X.

Klein is mum on plans for his replacement but denies a report by London's Telegraph of a deal with Piers Morgan, a former British talk-show host. "Piers is a very talented guy, but we've not negotiated with him. There's a number of talented people who could do an excellent job, but we wanted to wait to hatch our plans until Larry decided what he wants to do."

King's exit will wait until after a show with former New York governor Eliot Spitzer launches in September in the hour before King's show.

Amid a downturn in CNN's ratings — the network ranks third in prime time behind Fox News and MSNBC — King's ratings dropped about 40% in the past year. But Klein says ratings weren't a factor. "A recent ratings tick after 25 years of TV history didn't fall into anyone's decision, least of all Larry's."

King's personal life has made news lately: His seventh wife, Shawn, was hospitalized after an apparent drug overdose in late May; the couple later filed for divorce but have since reconciled.

"I'm tired of the nightly grind," King told the AP on Tuesday. "I do want to do other things, but I want to stay at CNN in some way. (There's) great mixed emotions."

He said he began thinking about stepping down after his 25th anniversary week, during which he interviewed basketball star LeBron James, Bill Gates, President Obama and Lady Gaga — an apt example of the mix that he always sought on his show. "I said, 'I can't top this.' "

He told his staff in a conference call Tuesday, which he described as "one of the saddest 10 minutes of my life."

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