Saturday died Larry King, the suspenders-sporting everyman whose televised interviews for half a century helped define American conversation with world leaders, movie stars, and ordinary Joes. He was eighty-seven.
King died in Los Angeles at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, his production company, Ora Media, tweeted. There was no cause of death, but a spokesman said Jan. 4 that King had COVID-19, had obtained supplementary oxygen, and had been taken out of intensive care. King’s death was also confirmed by his son, Chance Armstrong, CNN reported.
A long-time nationally syndicated radio host, he was a nightly regular on CNN from 1985 to 2010, winning numerous honours, including two Peabody awards.
King wasn’t just an enduring on-air personality with his celebrity interviews, political debates and topical discussions. Whether interviewing the attack survivor identified as the Central Park jogger or the billionaire industrialist Ross Perot, who in 1992 shocked the presidential contest by announcing his candidacy on King’s show, he also set himself apart with the interest he carried to every interview.
“Larry King Live” was based in Washington in its early years, which gave the show an air of gravitas. The King, likewise. He was the plain-spoken go-between that Beltway bigwigs could reach their audience through, and they did, winning the reputation of the show as a place where stuff happened, where news was made.
An approximate 50,000 on-air interviews were conducted by King. In 1995, with PLO President Yasser Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, he chaired a Middle East peace conference. From the Dalai Lama to Elizabeth Taylor, from Mikhail Gorbachev to Barack Obama, Bill Gates to Lady Gaga, he invited everyone.
His shows were always in the thick of breaking celebrity news, especially after he moved to Los Angeles, including Paris Hilton talking about her stint in prison in 2007 and Michael Jackson’s friends and family members talking about his death in 2009.
King bragged about never over-preparing for an interview. His non-confrontational style relaxed his visitors and helped him connect to his audience easily.
“I don’t pretend to know everything,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press in 1995. Not,’ What about Cuba or Geneva?’ “I am wondering, ‘Mr. What don’t you like about this job, President? Or “What is the greatest mistake you have made?” ′ That’s fascinating.”
At a time when CNN was considered politically neutral as the lone player in cable news, and King was the essence of his middle-of-the-road stance, his show would be sought out by political figures and people at the centre of controversies.
And he was renowned for having visitors that were notoriously elusive. In what would be the singer’s last major TV appearance, Frank Sinatra, who rarely gave interviews and often lashed out at reporters, talked to King in 1988. Sinatra was the King’s old friend and behaved accordingly.
Why are you here? Why here? “Asks the King. Sinatra replies, “Because you asked me to come and I haven’t seen you in a long time to start with, I thought we should get together and chat, just talk a lot of stuff.”
King had never met Marlon Brando, who, when the acting giant asked to appear on King’s show in 1994, was even tougher to get and tougher to interview. So famously, the two hit it off that they ended their 90-minute talk with a song and an on-the-mouth kiss, a sight that in subsequent weeks was all over the papers.
King suddenly revealed he was retiring from his show after a gala week celebrating his 25th anniversary in June 2010, telling viewers, “It’s time to hang up my nightly suspenders.” Named in the time slot as his successor: Piers Morgan, British journalist and TV personality.
By King’s departure in December, speculation had emerged that he had been waiting too long for those suspenders to hang up. “He placed third in his time slot with less than half the nightly audience in his peak year, 1998, when “Larry King Live” attracted 1.64 million viewers, once the pioneer in cable TV news.
By then, his broad-eyed, regular-guy approach to interviewing seemed dated in an age of other hosts’ edgy, pushy or loaded questioning.
Occasional flubs, meanwhile, made him appear out of touch, or worse. A prime example from 2007 saw King asking Jerry Seinfeld whether his sitcom had voluntarily quit or his network, NBC, had cancelled him.
“I was the No. 1 TV show, Larry,” Seinfeld answered with a flabbergasted expression. “You know who I am, don’t you? ”
“Larry King always loved him and will miss him,” Seinfeld tweeted on Saturday. It was just me having fun with his little mistake, the ‘cancelled’ bit. Nothing else anymore. Or less so.
Always a workaholic, within a couple of months of carrying out his nightly duties, King will be back doing specials for CNN.
When the platform emerged, he discovered a new kind of popularity as a plain-spoken natural on Twitter, winning over more than 2 million fans who simultaneously ridiculed and admired him for his esoteric style.
“I was never in a canoe at all. #Itsmy2cents, he said in 2015, in a typical tweet.
His Twitter account was basically a reboot of a column he wrote for two decades, full of one-off, disjointed opinions, on USA Today. When he played King on “Saturday Night Live,” with deadpan lines like, “The more I think about it, the more I appreciate the equator,” Norm Macdonald delivered a parody version of the column.
King was regularly parodied, often by old-age jokes from hosts like David Letterman and Conan O’Brien on late-night talk shows, often posing with the latter to get in on the roasting himself.
The King came honestly through his voracious yet no-frills manner.
He was born in 1933 to Lawrence Harvey Zeiger, the son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who owned a bar and grill in Brooklyn. But he faced a troubled, often destitute youth after the death of his father when Larry was a child.
A fan of radio stars like Arthur Godfrey and comedians like Bob & Ray, King set his sights on a broadcasting career when he reached adulthood. He moved south in 1957 with word that Miami was a good place to break in, and landed a job sweeping floors at a tiny AM station. King was put on the air when a deejay suddenly left, and was handed his new surname by the station manager, who felt Zeiger was “too Jewish.”
He relocated to a bigger station a year later, where his duties were extended from the regular patter to act as host of a daily interview show broadcasting from a local restaurant. He soon proved to be equally adept at speaking to the waitresses and the celebrities who started to drop by.
King had gone to a bigger Miami station by the early 1960s, scoring a newspaper column and becoming himself a local celebrity.
At the same time, he became a victim of living high.
He wrote in his autobiography, “It was important for me to come across as a “big guy,” which meant “I made a lot of money and spread it profusely around.
He had debts and his first broken relationships accrued (he was married eight times to seven women). He gambled, wildly lent and refused to pay his taxes. In a plan to bankroll an investigation into the assassination of President John Kennedy, he was also involved with a shady financier. But when King skimmed some of the money to pay his unpaid taxes, he was sued in 1971 by his partner for grand larceny. The charges were dismissed, but the prestige of the King seemed ruined.
King lost his radio show and tried to find employment for many years. By 1975, however, the controversy had largely blown over and he was offered another chance by a Miami station. King was signed to host the first national call-in show on radio in 1978, regaining his local fame.
“The Larry King Show” was ultimately heard on more than 300 stations, originating from Washington on the Mutual network, and made King a national phenomenon.
CNN creator Ted Turner gave King a spot on his young network a few years later. On June 1, 1985, “Larry King Live” premiered and became CNN’s top-rated show. Ultimately, King’s starting salary of $100,000 a year rose to more than $7 million.
In 1987, a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit led to a heart attack, but he was not slowed down by King’s quintuple-bypass surgery.
Meanwhile, in his words, “I’m not good at marriage, but I am a great boyfriend,” he proceeded to prove that.
He was just 18 when, in 1952, he married his high school girlfriend, Freda Miller. The wedding lasted for less than a year. He married Annette Kay, Alene Akins (twice), Mickey Sutfin, Sharon Lepore and Julie Alexander in the decades that followed.
He married Shawn Southwick in 1997, a country singer and actress who was 26 years his junior. In 2010, they would apply for divorce, rescind the filing, and file again in 2019 for divorce.
The couple had two sons — King’s fourth and fifth kids, Chance, born in 1999, and Cannon Edward, born in 2000. King lost his two older sons, Andy King and Chaia King, in 2020, who died within weeks of each other from unrelated health problems.
In recent decades, he has had numerous other medical complications, including further heart attacks and type 2 diabetes and lung cancer diagnosis.
He continued to work in his late 80s despite his losses, taking on internet talk shows and infomercials as his CNN appearances became smaller.
“Work,” King said one time. “It’s the simplest thing I can do.”
“Funeral arrangements and a memorial service will later be announced, according to the tweet from Ora Media, in coordination with the King family, “who are calling for their privacy at this time.