Five decades and 50,000 interviews after he first jabbed a microphone into a surprised pop singer's face at a Miami Beach diner, Larry King is hanging up his suspenders. His Thursday night show on CNN will be the last of a broadcast career that eternally careened between pinnacles of wild success and pits of utter catastrophe.
King and his producers are being uncharacteristically tight-lipped about who will appear on the final edition of Larry King Live, which airs at 9 p.m. Comedian Bill Maher and American Idol host Ryan Seacrest will be at King's Hollywood studio -- but 14 mystery guests will also beam in from around the world via satellite.
Could President Barack Obama be among them? He's already shared a microphone with King, as has every American president since Richard Nixon. O.J. Simpson? King's mile-by-mile coverage of Simpson's 1994 slow-motion car chase by Los Angeles police inaugurated the age of crime as entertainment. LeBron James? Bill Gates? Lady Gaga? They've all been chatted up on the nightly show.
Or could the legendary allure of appearing on King's program -- which has survived the nose-dive of his Nielsen ratings even if the show itself hasn't -- even draw guests from the other end of this mortal coil?
Then we might see Marlon Brando, who unexpectedly and indelibly ended a 1994 interview by kissing King full on the lips. ("I still can't stop thinking about it,'' King said 15 years later.) Or segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who opened an appearance on a King show by ostentatiously glancing around the TV studio, then sneering: ``I don't see any blacks working here.'' (Retorted King: "They own the station. They're out to lunch.'')
In fact, it's hard to find anyone of any significance in the past half-century, living or dead, who hasn't sat across the table from King in his various radio and TV incarnations. Read my full story in Thursday's Miami Herald.