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In surprise move, Charles Gibson retires from ABC News

He's wealthy, still in good health, and saw his predecessor nearly killed on the job and another fall ill with lung cancer and later die.

So considering all that, Charles Gibson's retirement from "World News" and ABC, where he's been one of the most visible on-air news figures for nearly 35 years, makes perfect sense.

In a surprise move Wednesday, Gibson, 66, officially announced that he will step down as anchor of "World News," effective in January, when he'll be replaced by Diane Sawyer, another legendary TV news figure, whose career once soared at "60 Minutes," and in recent years seemed to stall out at "Good Morning America."

"There is no one like Charlie Gibson," she said in a statement, "and it is an enormous honor to be asked to join the terrific broadcast he and the great team of journalists have built at 'World News.' Until then I'll be getting up early and spending mornings as always counting myself so lucky to be with Robin [Roberts], Chris [Cuomo] and Sam [Champion] and the incredibly smart, talented and dedicated team of 'Good Morning America.' "

Her ascension is historic, because by January, an institution that had long been largely the province of men - ABC, CBS and NBC nightly news - will have two female anchors, Sawyer and CBS' Katie Couric.

In an internal memo to staffers, Gibson wrote, "It has not been an easy decision to make. This has been my professional home for almost 35 years. And I love this news department, and all who work in it, to the depths of my soul," adding: "The program is now operating at a very accelerated, but steady, cruising speed, and I think it is an opportune time for a transition - both for the broadcast and for me."

Gibson said he may continue to "contribute" to ABC News.

Gibson, who declined to comment further Wednesday, has been planning retirement for some time, and according to one source, had made up his mind to leave after the 2008 election. Gibson had nearly left the news division in 2005 when he was tapped to replace his friend, longtime anchor Peter Jennings, who died of cancer in 2005. But he and ABC News management failed to come to terms over how long he would stay as anchor. Instead, ABC named Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff as co-anchors. But Woodruff was nearly killed in Iraq by a roadside improvised explosive device covering a story in January 2006. Vargas later left after becoming pregnant. Gibson, then at "Good Morning America," was named and this time it was official. Wednesday's move was unexpected if only because "World News" has performed reasonably well with him at the helm.

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