|Lawrence Harvey Zeiger
|November 19, 1933
|American Television and Radio Host
Larry King, born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger on November 19, 1933, was a towering figure in American broadcast journalism, renowned for his insightful interviews and a career that spanned over five decades. His distinctive baritone voice and trademark suspenders became a hallmark of his nightly encounters with a diverse array of world leaders, entertainers, and everyday individuals. He possessed a unique ability to elicit frank and often revealing conversations, which contributed to his reputation as one of the most effective and enduring interviewers of his time.
Starting as a local journalist and broadcaster in Florida in the 1950s, King rose to become a national icon with “The Larry King Show,” a nationwide call-in radio program that began in 1978. He further cemented his legacy with the television program “Larry King Live,” which aired on CNN from 1985 until his retirement in 2010. Throughout his career, he conducted an estimated 60,000 interviews, engaging a wide range of subjects with probing questions while maintaining a neutral, non-confrontational style.
King’s work earned him widespread acclaim, including two Peabody Awards, an Emmy, and ten Cable ACE Awards. His influence extended beyond the realm of traditional media, as he adapted to changing technologies and continued to engage audiences even after leaving CNN. Larry King’s contributions to media and the art of the interview created an indelible mark on American culture, making his death on January 23, 2021, a moment of reflection on a remarkable journalistic legacy.
Early Life and Education
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Larry King, originally Lawrence Harvey Zeiger, embarked on a journey that would eventually crown him as a legendary figure in broadcast journalism. His early environment and inherent curiosity laid the groundwork for his pursuits in the field of radio broadcasting.
Larry King was born on November 19, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, to Jewish immigrant parents. His mother, Jennie Gitlitz, worked in the garment industry, and his father, Edward Zeiger, owned a bar and later worked in defense-plant jobs. Raised in the post-Depression era of Brooklyn, King experienced the struggles and resilience of New York’s working-class families. This upbringing in Brooklyn instilled in him a rich understanding of diverse perspectives—a trait that would serve him well in his future career in broadcasting.
Interest in Broadcasting
King’s fascination with radio began at a young age. Brooklyn’s melting pot of cultures and stories kindled his interest in the lives of others and the power of conversation. He frequently listened to radio programs, mesmerized by the voices that filled the airwaves with news, entertainment, and sports coverage. This early exposure to radio sparked King’s dream of a career in broadcasting, shaping his educational ambitions and pursuits. Larry King set his sights on a career in radio, determined to turn his passion for storytelling and connecting with people into a profession.
Larry King’s journey in broadcasting is a tale of a legendary communicator who transitioned from radio to television, captivating millions with his probing interview style. Over decades, he carved out a unique niche as an interviewer and talk show host, leaving a lasting impact on both mediums.
King’s foray into broadcasting began in the 1950s when he landed his first radio gig in Miami. His charm and candid conversational style quickly won him an audience. By 1978, Larry King was hosting The Larry King Show on the Mutual Broadcasting System, which became a staple of late-night radio, drawing audiences with his direct and personal interviewing style.
Transition to Television
After honing his skills in radio, King made the pivotal shift to television. His transition was marked by the ability to bring the intimacy of radio talk shows to the visual medium, which garnered even broader appeal. He would soon become a prominent fixture on television.
Larry King Live and CNN
In 1985, Larry King’s most famous television endeavor began: Larry King Live on CNN. This show ran for 25 years and aired over 6,000 episodes, covering a wide range of topics and interview subjects from celebrities to political figures. King’s show set the standard for cable news talk show formats with its mix of interviews, call-ins, and discussions.
Later Projects: RT and Ora Media
After concluding Larry King Live, King continued to explore new platforms and formats. He hosted Larry King Now and “Politicking with Larry King” on RT, formerly Russia Today. In 2012, King co-founded Ora Media and continued his interviewing craft through these channels and a podcast, blending traditional and modern media influences to the end of his career.
Notable Interviews and Achievements
Larry King’s storied career spanned over five decades, enabling him to conduct more than 50,000 interviews with a variety of high-profile guests. He garnered multiple accolades for his exceptional work in broadcasting.
Larry King was known for his ability to engage with a multitude of personalities, ranging from celebrities to world leaders. Some of the most iconic interviews include:
- Frank Sinatra (1988): A notable conversation where King explored the life and career of this legendary singer
- Vladimir Putin: King was among the few Western interviewers to sit down with the Russian President
- Ross Perot and Al Gore (1993): Their debate on NAFTA was a significant political event that King moderated
- Lady Gaga: King interviewed the pop star, discussing her music career and personal life
- Dalai Lama: His discussions with the spiritual leader often delved into philosophical and global issues
These interviews solidify King’s role in bridging the gap between the public and figures that shape the world’s cultural and political landscapes.
Awards and Recognition
Larry King’s excellence in broadcasting was recognized through various awards:
- Peabody Award: King’s interviews have been celebrated for their quality and depth, earning him this prestigious award
- Emmy Nomination for Sir Paul McCartney Interview (2001): This poignant discussion about John Lennon’s death brought King critical acclaim
Piers Morgan took over King’s long-running CNN slot, indicating the significance of his show’s influence. King’s dedication to his craft left an indelible mark on the field of journalism.
Larry King’s personal life was marked by numerous marriages and significant health challenges. He navigated the complexities of family life and faced severe health issues, all of which influenced his life and career.
Marriages and Family
Larry King was married eight times to seven different women. His marital journey began at an early age and included multiple instances of divorce. King’s family life extended beyond his marriages as he was the father to five children.
- Alene Akins: Larry King married and divorced Akins twice
- Shawn Southwick: Married in 1997, Southwick was King’s seventh wife; they filed for divorce in 2019
King’s children were a central part of his life, despite the turbulence in his marital affairs.
King’s health was an ongoing battle, particularly concerning his heart. He suffered from heart disease, which led to a major health scare and multiple medical interventions.
- 1987: Underwent quintuple bypass surgery after a heart attack
- 2017: Diagnosed with lung cancer; treated successfully with surgery
- Sepsis: Complications from sepsis ultimately contributed to his death
King was open about his health issues, publicly discussing his treatments and encouraging others to take their health seriously.
Death and Legacy
Larry King’s death marked the end of an era for broadcast journalism. Renowned for his interviews and charismatic presence, King’s legacy is underscored by his long-standing career and the impact he made on both his guests and audience.
Circumstances of Death
Larry King died on January 23, 2021, at the age of 87. He passed away at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. His official cause of death was sepsis. Prior to his passing, King had been hospitalized with COVID-19.
Tributes and Impact
After King’s death, tributes poured in from colleagues, celebrities, and fans who had been touched by his work. His impact on the world of broadcasting was highlighted in countless obituaries and social media posts, many of which recognized his unique ability to extract candid responses from his interviewees. Larry King’s legacy lives on through the numerous interviews and shows he hosted, which continue to be referenced and celebrated for their contribution to media and journalism.
Cultural and Media Influence
Larry King’s influence permeated beyond the traditional bounds of journalism, extending into various realms of pop culture. His distinctive interviewing style and cable news presence had a significant impact on both his industry and the portrayal of media figures in film and television.
Appearances in Film and Television
King made notable appearances in a diverse range of films and television shows, portraying either himself or media personas that clearly draw from his image. Notable examples include:
- Shrek 2 (2004) & Shrek the Third (2007): King lent his voice to the character Doris, an Ugly Stepsister, blending his iconic media presence with animated film
- Bee Movie (2007): In a self-referential cameo, King voices “Bee Larry King,” a reflection of his widespread recognition
- 30 Rock (NBC, 2006–2013): King made a guest appearance on this Emmy-winning comedy series, adding to the satirical take on network television
- Ghostbusters (1984): His cameo in this film is a nod to his standing as a media mainstay during the 1980s
- Sesame Street (PBS, 1969–present): King’s appearance on this influential children’s show evidences his appeal to a broad audience demographic
Journalistic Style and Public Perception
Larry King’s interviewing technique is widely regarded for its non-confrontational approach. He utilized open-ended questions, colloquially known as “softball questions,” which fostered an environment wherein guests felt comfortable sharing their thoughts, contributing to the authentic dialogues that became a hallmark of his shows.
- Public Perception: King’s style was sometimes critiqued for being too lenient, but this approach also gained him access to a wide variety of public figures and approval from a majority of his audience
- Non-Confrontational Approach: This facilitation of conversation without aggressive tactics allowed for a more personable discourse, which was appreciated by his viewers.
- Legacy: King’s approach is preserved through his endeavours like the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, establishing his commitment to benevolence alongside his media career
His distinct media presence and interviewing style not only resonated with the audience but also made a mark in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest-running show with the same host in the same time slot on the same network.
Controversies and Legal Matters
Larry King’s professional accomplishments were at times overshadowed by personal controversies and legal issues, casting a complex light on his legacy.
Legal Issues in the Past
In the past, King faced a range of legal challenges. Among them, in 1971, he was charged with grand larceny. The charge stemmed from allegations that he stole $5,000 from his business partner, Louis Wolfson, a former fund manager. Subsequently, this accusation significantly impacted his career, with King losing his broadcasting jobs and being shunned by associates.
However, the charge was later dropped, enabling King to rebuild his career and reputation. Despite this setback, he persevered to become one of America’s most recognized and trusted broadcasters.
Larry King’s professional pursuits extended beyond his iconic role as a television host; they encompassed media platforms and literature, reflecting his entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to communication.
Media and Branding Initiatives
Larry King co-founded Ora TV, a production company that launched in 2012, offering on-demand digital content. Ora TV was a bold step into the digital media space, signifying King’s adaptation to the evolving media landscape. He also had a notable presence on RT America, the American arm of the Russian state-controlled network, where he hosted “Larry King Now” and “Politicking with Larry King,” expanding his influence into international broadcasting.
His name became a strong media brand, recognized globally for in-depth interviews and a straightforward delivery—a testament to King’s effective public relations and branding strategies that remained consistent with his reputation as a media stalwart.
As an author, Larry King penned several books, with “My Remarkable Journey” being one of the prominent titles in his literary portfolio. In this memoir, he chronicled his experiences from his humble beginnings to becoming one of the most recognized figures in American journalism. His books demonstrated his storytelling prowess, allowing readers to engage with his life’s story and the insights gained from a career spanning over five decades.
Larry King’s profound impact on political discourse stemmed from his extensive history of interviewing political figures and commentating on key political events. He navigated complex political landscapes by providing a platform for varied perspectives and contributing to the national conversation through his talk shows and interviews.
Political Interviews and Commentary
Throughout his career, Larry King became known for hosting a diverse array of political figures on his talk shows. His platform gave viewers insight into the minds of influential leaders and their policies.
- Ross Perot: King’s interview with Ross Perot in 1992 was pivotal. It facilitated a direct dialogue between the public and Perot, who was then a third-party presidential candidate
- Al Gore: King also engaged with mainstream political figures, such as Al Gore. His interviews covered a range of topics, including Gore’s contributions toward understanding climate change
- Dalai Lama: King provided a unique perspective by interviewing non-political leaders like the Dalai Lama, emphasizing how spiritual leadership intertwines with global politics
- Vladimir Putin: His interviews with international figures, including Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, offered audiences a rare glimpse into the policies and demeanor of the Russian leader
- NAFTA: Larry King’s discussions often included critical analysis and commentary on significant political agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), highlighting its importance and implications for international trade
King’s show “PoliticKING with Larry King” continued his legacy of political interviews and discussions, cementing his reputation as a confident and clear commentator in the political arena.