Larry King, Who Interviewed Newsmakers of All Kinds, Dies

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Larry King (Photo: CNN)

Larry King, the talk show host, most prominently of the primetime Larry King Live from 1985 to 2010 on CNN, died January 23, 2021, at age 87. King had been hospitalized for several weeks at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for Covid-19. The news was revealed via his Twitter account at 4:45 a.m. PT.

In December 2010, King hung up his trademark suspenders and ended Larry King Live, the program he hosted for 25 years on CNN. The archives of Larry King Live is a treasure trove of broadcast history, featuring compelling one-on-ones with many of the most famous and important people of the time, as well as obscure individuals thrust into the spotlight by extraordinary circumstances.

Over the course of his historic career, King conducted more than 50,000 interviews with newsmakers from all walks of life. With his unique, conversational approach to interviewing, he changed not only the landscape of cable television, but television news in general and became a domineering force in primetime news programming. As the Emmy Award-winning host of what was CNN’s highest-rated program, King had been dubbed “the most remarkable talk-show host on TV ever” by TV Guide and “master of the mic” by TIME.

At the time of his passing, he had an astounding 2.4 million Twitter followers.

Larry King Live debuted on CNN in June 1985, featuring its now-famous mix of celebrity interviews, political debates and topical discussions. When King made the transition from his successful national radio talk show to cable, he helped define the future of cable news programming and CNN. Telecast each weeknight at 9 p.m. (ET), the program featured phone calls and e-mails from viewers around the world. In June 1994, King created the first daily radio/TV talk show by simulcasting CNN’s Larry King Live on Mutual/Westwood One radio stations nationwide.

Watch a portion of King’s interview with Mick Jagger

During King’s more than half century in broadcasting, he conducted exclusive sit-downs with every U.S. president from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama. King’s famed NAFTA debate between then-Vice President Al Gore and Ross Perot in 1993 smashed cable industry ratings records and obtained the highest rating in CNN history – reaching more than 16.3 million viewers. In 1995, King hosted a historic hour on the Middle East Peace process with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

A portion of one of King’s USA Today columns from 1993

For nearly two decades, King also wrote a weekly column for USA Today, seemingly randomly filled with brief opinions and factoids, and always separated by an ellipsis (dot dot dot): “My favorite all-time football coach is still Don Shula… I eat blueberries everyday and I am better off for it… I can’t figure out how a sundial works but then again I failed science… ”

After Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, Larry King Live broadcast for 20 consecutive nights. After the Sept. 11 attacks, King interviewed more than 700 guests, including more than 35 world leaders and dignitaries. In 2000, King’s 37 consecutive days of political coverage during the election recount in Florida featured 348 guests, including George W. Bush and Laura Bush and Al Gore and Tipper Gore. His pre-election coverage for 2000 included the first interviews with each party’s newly selected vice presidential candidates.

Watch King’s 1999 interview with Prince

Over the course of 50 years, King consistently made headlines with other such high-profile guests as Tony Blair, Marlon Brando, President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, Johnny Carson, Jimmy Carter and Roslyn Carter, President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bette Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., Mark “Deep Throat” Felt, President Gerald Ford and Betty Ford, Jackie Gleason, Mikhail Gorbachev, Billy Graham, Audrey Hepburn, Bob Hope, Michael Jordan, Bobby Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Monica Lewinsky, Madonna, Paul McCartney, President Richard Nixon and Pat Nixon, Al Pacino, Marianne Pearl, Prince, President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan, Eleanor Roosevelt, Pete Rose, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Martha Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret Thatcher, Oprah Winfrey and Malcolm X.

King has been inducted into five of the nation’s leading broadcasting halls of fame and is the recipient of the prestigious Allen H. Neuharth Award for Excellence in Journalism. Both his radio and television shows have won the George Foster Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting. King has won a News and Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding Interview/Interviewer. King was also selected to be an Olympic Torch bearer for the 2002 Winter Games.

Watch King interview George Carlin in 1990

In celebration of his 40th anniversary in the broadcasting industry, Hollywood honored King in 1997 with a star on the Walk of Fame for his life’s work. The Los Angeles Press Club honored him with its President’s Award. In 1993, the National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts named King “Talk Show Host of the Year.” He has received honorary degrees from George Washington University, the New England Institute of Technology, Brooklyn College and the Pratt Institute.

King made cameo appearances in more than 20 movies, including Ghostbusters, Primary Colors, and Shrek 2. He appeared in television series such as Law and Order, The Practice, Arli$$, Murphy Brown and Frasier.

King tweeted this photo on Nov. 19, 2020 (“Thank you for all the kind birthday messages today… “)

Lawrence Harvey Zeiger was born in Brooklyn, NY, on Nov. 19, 1933.
After changing his name, King was a popular media personality in Miami where he was a disc jockey and columnist. From 1978-1994, King’s voice was heard by millions of radio listeners on Mutual Radio’s The Larry King Show.

In addition to his broadcast credits, after King suffered a heart attack, he founded the Larry King Cardiac Foundation in 1988, which has raised over $15 million and provided life-saving cardiac procedures for more than 1500 people and provided 100,000 heart screenings for needy children and adults.

King was married eight times, including twice to the same woman, Alene Akins. At the time of his death, he was separated from singer/actress Shawn Southwick-King. He had five children, two of whom pre-deceased him.

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