Ken Tucker
December 16, 2010 AT 12:00 PM EST

The last Larry King Live was a Larrypalooza of King’s things: The biggest guests (President Obama! Ryan Seacrest! President Clinton! Suze Orman!) and the biggest compliments (“You’re the best,” said Donald Trump; Trump also said, “Oprah is a tremendous person”). Katie Couric recited a Dr. Seuss-metered poem that included the couplet, “You made NAFTA exciting and that’s hard to do/You scored Paris Hilton’s first post-jail interview.”

Right to the end, Larry King was Larry King: Friendly, relaxed, never at a loss for a quick question. He even offered his definition of the best question an interviewer could ask: “The best question is ‘Why?’ because it can’t be answered with one word.”

When California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared this day, “Larry King Day” and held up an official state proclamation to that effect, the governor waited for a response from Larry. King paused for a few seconds, and then said, “Say hello to the wife.”

King was also, as is his wont, prone to lose track of things in the most amiable manner. Guest Regis Philbin sought to prove King’s vast knowledge of old songs by singing a verse of a ditty and asking Larry to complete the verse. Larry… didn’t recognize the song.

Early in the show, at some point during a strange four-way conversation between Bill Maher, Ryan Seacrest, and Fred Armisen dressed as and impersonating King, there was a jokey question about whether King preferred “zippers or buttons.” (King came down on the side of zippers.) A few minutes later, interviewing Bill Clinton “live from Little Rock, Arkansas,” King said to the former President, “We’re both in the zipper club.” I think it’s fair to say there was stunned silence all around. A bit later, King said, “By the way, the suits want me to explain that by ‘zipper club’ I meant we’d both had heart operations.” “Ohhhh!” said Clinton, Maher, and Seacrest in unison.

At certain points, King’s off-kilter phrasing seemed contagious. Barbra Walters said King hosted “heads of state and not-so-heads of state.” Huh?

King brought out what he referred to as “the wife and the kids” — well, one wife (Shawn) and two kids. One of the latter, 11 year-old Cannon, actually did a dead-on impersonation of dear old dad (a growly-voiced, “I’m too old fa’ this, I’ve done this for 50 years!”) Seriously: Cannon killed; even Maher was speechless.

Speaking of Maher, he extolled King as “the ultimate minimalist,” an artful way of saying King kept things very simple over the course of 25 years of interviews.

Maher also said that in the history of TV interviewers, there have been “too many windbags and douchebags, and Larry was never windy or douchy.” Stay classy, Bill!

Along the bottom of the CNN screen, tweets posted to Larry were unfurled. Mariah Carey wrote: “I love Larry!” Jenny McCarthy’s message? “I’ll miss your sexy ass!” That McCarthy, what a cut-up.

Live from Louisiana, Tony Bennett serenaded King with “The Best Is Yet To Come.” Bennett sounded terrific.

King went out with a grateful, “So long.”

Twitter: @kentucker

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