TV and radio host Larry King, known for his straight to the point interviewing technique, hosted ‘Larry King Live’ for 25 years.
Who Was Larry King?
Larry King was born November 19, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York. In 1978 he started a nightly coast-to-coast radio talk show, The Larry King Show, on the Mutual Radio Network. This work caught the attention of Ted Turner, who hired King to host his own talk show, Larry King Live, on CNN in 1985. In 2010, King announced he’d be ending his reign as host after 25 years.
Born as Lawrence Harvey Zeiger on November 19, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, King was the child of Jewish immigrants Edward Zeiger, a bar owner, and Jennie Gitlitz, a garment worker. When King was 9 years old, his father died of heart disease at the age of 44. King’s mother had to go on welfare to support him and his younger brother, Marty. From an early age, King dreamed of a career in radio, but his father’s death greatly affected his emotional stability, causing him to lose interest in school. He barely finished high school, and had little prospect of having a steady career. At this time, he went to work as a mail clerk to help support his mother.
A chance meeting with a CBS television announcer set King on the pathway to a career in radio. The announcer told him to go to Florida, a state with a growing media market that was hiring inexperienced broadcasters. King got his first break on Miami radio station WAHR (now WMBM) in Miami Beach. Initially, the job was to clean up the station and perform odd jobs. But when one of their male announcers quit in May of 1957, King was put on to replace him. He must have impressed his manager, because King was immediately put on the 9:00 AM to noon shift. He also did two afternoon newscasts and a sportscast. Doing all this while receiving a $55 a week salary made the young King feel he was fulfilling his long-time dream.
The name he was going by at the time, Larry Zeiger, didn’t sit well with the station’s general manager since he thought it sounded too too ethnic and was hard to remember. Minutes before the young King was to go on air, he chose the last name “King” after seeing an advertisement for King’s Wholesale Liquor. King soon found popularity in the South Florida radio scene. In 1960, he premiered his first program on Miami television and built up a strong local following, adding a newspaper column in the entertainment sections of the Miami Herald and Miami News to his radio and television duties. During the 1960s, he met television legend Jackie Gleason, who was producing a national television variety show in Miami Beach at the time. King later credited Gleason for teaching him much about television production and called him a mentor.
In December 1971, King was charged with grand larceny by a former business partner, which immediately led to the loss of his broadcast and newspaper jobs. He was acquitted of all charges in 1972 but was deeply in debt and publicly disgraced. Over the next several years he worked to rebuild his career, writing magazine articles and working in West Coast radio. By the late 1970s, the incident had blown over, and he was able to return to Miami broadcasting. He was rehired by WIOD in 1978, starting a nightly coast-to-coast talk show, The Larry King Show, on the Mutual Radio Network. The show featured guest interviews and call-ins from the listening audience and became very successful, growing to over 500 affiliate stations. This work caught the attention of media mogul Ted Turner, who hired King to host his own talk show on the then-fledgling Cable News Network (CNN) in 1985.
Larry King Live became the first international TV call-in show. Over the course of the next 25 years, King developed a loyal audience who tuned in to watch the talk show host interview presidents, athletes, actors, national heroes, foreign dignitaries and obscure individuals who were thrust into the limelight. The show soon became the highest-rated talk show on air, and a requisite stopover for celebrities plugging any project. King’s direct, non-confrontational interview style proved to be a hit with audiences and guests alike. As a testament to the show’s influence, Ross Perot chose to announce his 1992 presidential bid on Larry King Live. In addition, King has also used his show as a portal for other fundraising events, including disaster relief in New Orleans and Haiti.
In June 2010, King announced he’d be ending his reign as host of the CNN talk show after 25 years. In September the same year, CNN named British media personality, Piers Morgan, as King’s successor.
Outside his career as talk show host, King has appeared as himself in several movies and television shows. He’s also done voice work in such animated films as Shrek 2 (2004), Shrek the Third (2007), and Bee Movie (2007). He’s also written several books on heart disease after he suffered a heart attack in 1987. King’s autobiography, My Remarkable Journey, was published in 2009.
‘Larry King Now’
In 2012 King launched his own web series, Larry King Now, that is in the same vein as his TV talk show on CNN.
King passed away on January 23, 2021. Though no cause of death was announced, it was revealed a few weeks prior that he had COVID-19. “With profound sadness, Ora Media announces the death of our co-founder, host, and friend Larry King, who passed away this morning at age 87 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles,” King’s Twitter posted. “Whether he was interviewing a U.S. president, foreign leader, celebrity, scandal-ridden personage, or an everyman, Larry liked to ask short, direct, and uncomplicated questions, he believed concise questions usually provided the best answers, and he was not wrong in that belief.”
King also became well known for his repeat trips to the altar, marrying a total of eight times — twice to the same woman. King has been in and out of marriages most of his adult life, beginning with his marriage to his high-school sweetheart Freda Miller when he was 19. During his subsequent seven marriages, he has fathered four children. In 1997, King married his seventh wife, Shawn Southwick, a former singer and television host, in King’s Los Angeles hospital room three days before he underwent heart surgery. Southwick is 26 years King’s junior. The couple has two children together, Chance and Cannon. Southwick has a son, Danny, from her former marriage. The couple announced their separation, and impending divorce, on April 14, 2010. The couple has since stopped proceedings, however, claiming they did so for the sake of the children.