By Jenny Marcinkowski
Larry King, the talk show host known for “Larry King Live,” died at the age of 87 on Jan. 23.
King was a staple across American households and was known for his direct, yet non-confrontational approach to interviewing. He often came with little preparation as he wanted the interview to feel like it is coming from the audience’s perspective. His trademark suspenders and slicked-back hair gave King a memorable appearance.
His death was announced in a statement posted to his Twitter account. “For 63 years and across the platforms of radio, television and digital media, Larry’s many thousands of interviews, awards, and global acclaim stand as a testament to his unique and lasting talent as a broadcaster,” wrote Ora Media, a company King co-founded.
David Theall, a spokesperson for Ora Media, revealed that King was diagnosed with Covid-19 late last year. In early Jan., however, he was taken off intensive care. Throughout his life, King battled several different health conditions including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, prostate cancer and most recently underwent surgery to treat lung cancer in 2017.
Throughout his career, King amassed critical acclaim including an Emmy Award, Peabody Award and induction into the Radio Hall of Fame as well as the Cable Hall of Fame. King has also written several books, two of which he recounted his experiences with heart disease.
He was born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger in 1933 to an Austrian father and Belarusian mother, both Jewish immigrants. Although a Brooklyn native, his career originated in Miami when he moved to become a DJ at WAHR in 1957. Quickly before going on air, the station manager suggested he change his name to King, citing that Zeiger was too hard for people to remember.
King recalled to John Pekkanen his first moments on the radio to People Magazine in 1980. “The theme music was supposed to fade, and I was supposed to do a voice-over. But every time the music faded, I’d turn it back up again,” King said. “Finally, the station manager stuck his head into the studio and said, ‘Remember, this is a communicating business.’ I let the music go down and told the audience what had just happened. Those were my first words on radio.”
He later moved onto WKAT and WIOD before making the transition to a career in print journalism and television in the 1960s.
As King became more popular in the Miami area, he began to face financial difficulties. His love of buying expensive items and misuse of funds funneled him into debt. After meeting investor Louis Wolfson at a racetrack, Wolfson gave him $5,000 to pay future U.S. Attorney General, John Mitchell, to investigate his legal issues, according to The Sun Sentinel. Instead, King allegedly used the $5,000 to pay off some of his taxes. Eventually, charges were dropped, however, this scandal proved to make the 70s very tough for King.
As his debts grew deeper and King began to juggle a few jobs as a columnist, announcer at games, and a talk show host. Mutual Broadcasting System eventually gave him the opportunity to host “The Larry King Show.” Even though the show ran between 12 and 5 a.m., it gained a following which contributed to his early success.
In 1985, King began hosting “Larry King Live” on CNN and consistently led in the network’s rankings. He was known for his wide range of guests which included every president since Richard Nixon, and other icons like Nelson Mandela, Frank Sinatra, Lady Gaga, Marlon Brando, and the Dalai Lama. King is said to have conducted over 40,000 interviews during his career and by the time of his departure from CNN in 2010, he had filmed over 6,000 episodes.
After his time at CNN, King started “Larry King Now” which streamed on Ora.TV, Hulu and RT television. He also gained a massive following on his Twitter account @kingsthings, where similar to his interviewing, his method of tweeting was .
Washington Post’s Style Blog explained that “When Larry King wants to tweet, he doesn’t log onto the Internet. He pops open the flip phone stored in the shirt pocket between his suspender straps and calls the number for a voicemail set up specifically for this purpose.”
King is no stranger to marriages as he has been married eight times to seven different women. His first was his high school sweetheart at the age of 18 and most recently he separated from his wife of 22 years in 2019.
King faced personal losses last Summer, when two of his children, Andy and Chaia, passed away only weeks apart. Andy King, 65, died July 28 following a heart attack, and Chaia, 51, died August 20 shortly after she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
King is survived by his three sons, Larry King Jr., 58, Chance King, 21, and Cannon King, 20, nine grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.