President Obama offered his appreciation for King's "truly amazing" career as well, noting that he had interviewed "everyone from presidents to generals, to Kermit the Frog to Joe from Tacoma."
"You say all you do is ask questions. But, for generations of Americans, the answers to those questions have surprised us, they've informed us and they've opened our eyes to the world beyond our living room," the president added, leaving King momentarily speechless.
"No matter what I do in life, other things, the suspenders will remain," King said in answer to Armisen's questions about his trademark accoutrement.
The 77-year-old talk show host, who once filled the radio airwaves in the middle of the night, has done more than 40,000 interviews in his 53-year career and logged some 10,000 hours on CNN alone since 1985.
He won Peabody awards for his radio work in 1982 and his TV work in 1992. But as the years have gone on, the iconic interviewer bore the brunt of criticisms that he was clueless and unprepared.
It's a criticism that King chafed at — although there was one unintentionally funny moment Thursday night that his critics would enjoy. In talking with former President Bill Clinton, who was appearing for the 29th time, King said they were both members of "The Zipper Club," which easily could be mistaken as a reference to Clinton's past infidelity. What King meant, clarifying the reference, was that they both had open-heart surgery and the doctors have to "zip" you up.
His defenders, including Maher and many others, lauded King's style, however, as "minimalist."
The night ended with Tony Bennett singing, "The Best Is Yet to Come," and a choked-up King telling his audience: "Thank you."