Television Giant Larry King Dies At 87


LOS ANGELES (AP) – Larry King, the strap-on driver who has interviewed presidents, movie stars and ordinary people for half a century in the electronic media, died Saturday at age 87.

Ora Media, the studio and network it co-founded, tweeted that King died Saturday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. His son Chance Armstrong also confirmed King’s death, CNN reported.

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No cause of death was reported, but a spokesperson said on Jan. 4 that King had COVID-19, had received supplemental oxygen and was removed from intensive care.

King was a perennial star of late-night television on CNN from 1985 to 2010. He won two Peabody Awards, but he never came across as intellectual. He preferred to ask presidents what they liked about their jobs rather than foreign policy. It hosted everyone from the Dalai Lama to Elizabeth Taylor, through Mikhail Gorbachev, Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Lady Gaga.

With his interviews with celebrities, political leaders, and topic analysis, King was more than just an enduring media personality. He distinguished himself by the curiosity he brought to each interview, whether it was questioning the woman victim of an attack known as “Central Park Jogger” or the industrial billionaire Ross Perot, who rocked the presidential race in 1992 by announcing his candidacy on the show King.

In its early years, “Larry King Live” was made in Washington, DC, which gave the show a certain seriousness, as did King. He was the right person for the bigwigs around him to reach out to their audiences, and they did, giving the show prestige as a place where things happened, where news was made.

King conducted nearly 50,000 interviews on the air. In 1995 he chaired a summit on the Middle East with the president of the Palestine Liberation Organization Yasser Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

His shows used to feature celebrity scoops, especially after he relocated to Los Angeles, including Paris Hilton speaking about his time in prison in 2007 and Michael Jackson’s family and friends speaking about his death in 2009.

King bragged that he never prepared too much for an interview. His style of avoiding confrontation relaxed his guests and made him close to his audience.

“I don’t pretend to know everything,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press in 1995. “Nothing about ‘what’s going on in Geneva or with Cuba?’ I ask him, ‘Mr. President, what don’t you like about your job?’ or ‘What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?’ That’s fascinating. ‘

At a time when CNN – as the only actor on cable news – was seen as politically neutral and King was the essence of its middle ground, political figures and people at the center of controversies sought out his show.

King was known for entertaining guests who were notoriously elusive. Frank Sinatra, who rarely gave interviews and often lashed out at reporters, spoke to King in 1988 in what would be the singer’s last major television appearance. Sinatra was an old friend of King’s and acted accordingly.

“Why are you here?” King asked. Sinatra replied, “Since you asked me to come and I hadn’t seen you in a long time to begin with, I thought we should get together and chat, just talk about a lot of things.”

King had never met Marlon Brando, who was even harder to see and more difficult to interview, when the acting giant asked to appear on King’s show in 1994. The two got along so well that they ended their 90’s talk. minutes with a song and a kiss on the mouth, an image that was in the media in the following weeks.

After a week-long gala to celebrate his show’s 25th anniversary in June 2010, King abruptly announced that he was retiring, telling viewers, “It’s time to hang up my suspenders.” His successor on the schedule was British journalist and television host Piers Morgan.

By King’s departure that December, it began to be suspected that he had waited too long to hang up those suspenders. The former cable news leader, he ranked third in ratings with less than half the annual nightly viewership in his best year, 1998, when “Larry King Live” drew 1.64 million viewers.

His approach to being amazed at things and being an ordinary guy in interviews seemed old-fashioned, at a time when other hosts asked bold, insistent, or loaded questions.

Meanwhile, the occasional mistakes made him seem out of touch, or worse. One of the best examples was when, in 2007, King asked Jerry Seinfeld if he had voluntarily left his comedy show or if it had been canceled by his network, NBC.

“I was the most watched show on television Larry,” Seinfeld replied with a puzzled face. “Do you know who I am?”.

“I always loved Larry King and will miss him,” Seinfeld tweeted on Saturday. “The ‘canceled’ part was just me having fun with their little mistake. Nothing more than that ”.

Always addicted to work, King found a new forum on Twitter when the platform emerged, gaining more than 2 million followers who simultaneously poked fun at him and loved him for his esoteric style.

“I’ve never been in a canoe,” he said in a typical tweet in 2015.

His Twitter account was essentially a revival of a USA Today column he wrote for two decades, full of unique and disconnected thoughts. Norm Macdonald delivered a parody version of the column when he portrayed King on “Saturday Night Live,” with deadpan lines such as “The more I think about it, the more I appreciate the equator.”

King was constantly parodied, often through jokes about old age, on late-night talk shows by hosts like David Letterman and Conan O’Brien, often appearing with the latter to participate in the taunts.

King found his style voracious but not superfluous in an honest way.

His given name was Lawrence Harvey Zeiger, he was born in 1933 to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who owned a bar and grill in Brooklyn. After the death of his father when Larry was a child, he had a troubled, sometimes helpless youth.

As a fan of radio stars like Arthur Godfrey and comedians Bob & Ray, King set his sights on a career in the media as he reached adulthood. When told that Miami was a good place to start in the guild, he headed south in 1957 and got a job cleaning floors at a small AM station. When an announcer abruptly resigned, King went on the air and was renamed as the station manager thought Zeiger was “too Jewish.”

A year later, he moved to a larger station, where his duties went from being the regular host to hosting a daily talk show that was broadcast from a local restaurant. He showed that he was prepared to speak to waitresses or celebrities alike who were starting to show up on his show.

By the early 1960s, King had moved to a larger radio station in Miami, had a newspaper column, and had become a local celebrity himself.

At the same time he became a victim of fame.

“It was important to me to present myself as a ‘great man’,” he wrote in his autobiography, which meant “I earn a lot of money and I spend it lavishly.”

He racked up debt and failed first marriages (he married seven women eight times). He gambled, borrowed, and stopped paying his taxes. He also engaged a dubious financier in a scheme to pay for an investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy. But when King took some of the money to pay his overdue taxes, his partner sued him for fraud in 1971. The charges were dropped, but King’s reputation seemed to be ruined.

In the midst of misfortune, King lost his radio show and for several years had trouble finding work. However, by 1975 the scandal had almost completely passed and a Miami station gave him another chance, which made him regain his local popularity. King was hired in 1978 to host his first nationwide show.

Originating in Washington on the Mutual network, “The Larry King Show” eventually ran on over 300 stations and made King a national phenomenon.

A few years later, CNN founder Ted Turner offered King a schedule on his young channel. “Larry King Live” debuted on June 1, 1985 and became CNN’s most popular show. Initially, King’s salary was $ 100,000 a year, but he went on to earn more than $ 7 million.

His habit of smoking three packs of cigarettes a day led to cardiac arrest in 1987, but quintuple bypass surgery did not slow him down.

Meanwhile, he continued to show that – in his own words – “I’m not good at marriage, but I’m a great boyfriend.”

He married his high school sweetheart in 1952. The marriage lasted less than a year. In later decades he married Annette Kay, Alene Akins (twice), Mickey Sutfin, Sharon Lepore, and Julie Alexander.

In 1997, he married Shawn Southwick, a country singer and actress 26 years his junior. They filed for divorce in 2010, but withdrew the petition and finally filed for divorce again in 2019.

The couple had two children, the fourth and fifth to King, Chance Armstrong, born in 1999, and Cannon Edward, born in 2000.

In 2020, King lost his two oldest children, Andy King and Chaia King, who died weeks apart from unrelated health problems.

In the past few decades, King had many health problems, including more heart attacks, type 2 diabetes, and lung cancer.

In early 2021, CNN reported that King had been hospitalized for more than a week for COVID-19.

Despite his setbacks, he kept working when he was near his 90th birthday, doing talk shows and infomercials after his time at CNN was up.

“Work,” King once said. “It’s the easiest thing for me.”

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Former Associated Press journalist Harrison Frazer contributed biographical material for this report.

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