Warm Southern Breeze

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The King of Talk Radio has Died in Los Angeles

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Saturday, January 23, 2021


Talk show host Larry King, face of CNN for 25 years, dies at 87

by Rodney Ho

Larry King died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to a tweet by Ora Media, the studio and network which he co-founded. No cause of death was given, but The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media outlets had reported earlier this month he was hospitalized with COVID-19.

Larry King in his office prior to his CNN show in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles Friday, Feb. 11, 2000. (AP Photo/Rene Macura)

He has had many health problems over the years including Type 2 diabetes, heart attacks and two bouts with cancer.

His 9PM show “Larry King Live” ran from 1985 to 2010 on CNN, and for many years, the inquisitive man with his signature suspenders and hunched shoulders hosted CNN’s top-rated show, and he and CNN founder Ted Turner became close friends.

His long-running USA Today column, with its random thoughts and observations separated by ellipses, was a precursor to a Twitter feed.

Marlon Brando, right, gestures while talking with Larry King during a break in the taping of CNN’s ‘Larry King Live’ in Los Angeles, Friday, April 5, 1996. Brando denied his opinions are anti-Semitic, but militant and mainstream Jewish leaders said his comments about Jews controlling Hollywood were ‘sloppy’ and shameful. (AP Photo/Larry King Live, Danny Feld)

Over the decades, King interviewed hundreds of celebrities, news-makers and politicians ranging from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and kidnapped publishing heiress Patty Hearst, to reclusive actor Marlon Brando and former Beatles musician Paul McCartney. He estimated he had gabbed with well over 50,000 people – enough to fill a large stadium. He hosted 6,120 shows for the Atlanta-based Cable News Network, with identical studios set up in Los Angeles, New York and Washington depending upon where he was at any given time. In his later years, he lived in Beverly Hills.

While many fellow journalists found his interviewing approach too soft, he had plenty of defenders.

Ted Turner is joined by newsman Bernard Shaw left and talk show host Larry King right at a reception Saturday Jan 14 1995 in Beverly Hills Calif Turner was on hand to receive the 1995 Scopus Award by American Friends of the Hebrew University AP Photo Michael Tweed

“Larry asked the questions that viewers wanted asked,” said Tom Johnson, president of CNN from 1990 to 2001. “All politicians enjoyed being booked on his show. He could handle breaking news flawlessly. … If Larry had any enemies, I never met them.”

Frank Sesno, who joined CNN as its D.C. Executive Editor in 1984 and would often substitute in for King on his show, said King’s interview approach would often relax his subjects in such a way that they would often reveal more than they otherwise would.

“His questions created a story,” Sesno said. “Larry was a storyteller with his interviews. It’s an art. It needs a beginning, middle and ending. He would open with these big, open-ended unchallenging questions. Then there would be a suspenseful, tension-filled middle that then needs a resolution. He could do that with a president or an author or a parent who lost a child.”

King took pride doing minimal prep for his interviews, the opposite of how most journalists approach that part of their job.

“It’s more fun that way,” King said in an interview in 2009 with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to promote his memoirMy Remarkable Journey.” “It’s how I started interviewing people when I was young and it worked for me. It would drive me nuts preparing so much. I ask short questions. I hate people who show off and talk about themselves all the time and use the guest as as prop.”

Music legend Paul McCartney, right, reads a poem from his new book: “Blackbird Singing, Poems and Lyrics 1965-1999,” during an exclusive interview Tuesday, June 12, 2001, with Larry King at the CNN studios in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Sesno said King, besides being a great questioner, “was a fabulous raconteur. He had a little of that Borscht Belt comedian in him.”

King also put his radio background to good use by taking callers, always citing their name and city. “He was doing audience engagement long before Twitter and Facebook,” Sesno said. “His audience became part of his program.”

Over time, his style of show went out of style as more personality-based, politically oriented shows hosted by the likes of Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity on rival networks found traction. But even as his ratings waned, King said he was not a fan of his direct rivals.

“I don’t like it when the host counts more than the guest,” he said. “I tend not to watch them and not because of ideology. My show is about the guest.”

King was born Nov. 19, 1933, as Lawrence Harvey Zeiger in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in a working-class, immigrant, Jewish family. He fell in love with radio as a child and would imitate radio announcers in school. His nickname? “Larry the Mouthpiece.”

But after his father died when he was 9, he focused more on his family. As a young adult, he worked at a hat factory, delivered packages for UPS, and sold Borden Milk. But the radio siren called and he found a gig in Miami. The general manager thought his last name Ziegler was too “ethnic” so his new employee chose King from an ad in a newspaper for a King’s Wholesale Liquor.

King over the years built a reputation in Miami as a great interviewer, landing extra gigs on TV and the newspaper as well. But he was terrible with his finances, got caught up in a stock market manipulation scheme and was arrested for larceny. Though the charges were later dropped, he disappeared from the airwaves for several years Eventually, he was able to get back on the radio and would become one of the first nationally syndicated talk show hosts, paving the way for the likes of Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh.

Shawn King, left, and Larry King arrive at the 45th annual Daytime Emmy Awards at the Pasadena Civic Center on Sunday, April 29, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

In 1985, Turner was seeking a prime-time host and liked King’s radio style and thought it would translate well on his news network. It did and King’s long-form interview show became a go-to place for celebrities promoting their latest project, politicians announcing presidential runs or anyone seeking to clean up a messy scandal. CNN’s international reach turned King into a recognizable figure worldwide.

“There was a time when everyone wanted to be on Larry King,” Sesno said.

King himself was no stranger to the gossip pages. He married eight times to seven different women and has three surviving sons, Chance, Cannon and Larry King Jr. Two other children died in 2020.

“I’ve only been in love three times in my life,” King said to the AJC in 2009. “Why I got married more times than that, I don’t have a clear answer. … But I don’t regret it. I don’t owe any previous wife anything. I’m friendly with them. Sometimes I question people who are married 50 years. How much compromise had they done? How much did they have to give up? Marriage is very difficult, a hard job.”

He admitted to being obsessed with death and would read the obituaries in the newspaper as part of his morning ritual according to a profile in The New York Times in 2015. One of his favorite questions to ask interview subjects was “What do you think happens when we die?”

About the Author
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a wide range of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years.


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