Early Days In Miami
Larry King began his broadcasting career in Miami in 1957. Born Larry Zeiger, he was about to go on the air for his first radio shift when the station manager told him he needed a less "ethnic" sounding name. Glancing at a nearby newspaper, he spied an ad for King's Discount Liquor, and on the spot came up with his new name.
During his years in Miami, King also made his first TV appearance (left), playing a radio deejay shot by mobsters in the cop show "Miami Undercover".
A Brush With The Law
By 1971, Larry King was one of Miami's best-known broadcasters, yet he was perpetually in debt. That resulted in bouncing a cheque to someone who had loaned him money, leading him to be arrested and charged with grand larceny.
While King didn't serve any time behind bars, the arrest cratered his career; he didn't land another steady gig until 1975. He eventually declared bankruptcy.
Larry King's Radio Days
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In 1978, he took a job in Washington, DC, where he hosted a national radio show. The show was a huge success, and ran until 1994.
A 25-Year Run On CNN
In 1985, media mogul Ted Turner tapped King to host a five-nights-a-week talk show on CNN, the cable news network he had launched five years earlier.
"Larry King Live" was an instant hit. Sporting his trademark suspenders, King welcomed guests ranging from world leaders and presidents to comedians, movie stars, musicians and everyone in between. The show became King's legacy, and ran for 25 years until he parted ways with CNN in 2010.
The Kiss Seen Around The World
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If there's one of King's thousands of TV interviews that stands out from the rest it's his 1995 sit-down with Marlon Brando.
Aside from the loopy interview itself (at one point, King and Brando sing a duet of "Got a Date with an Angel"), the capper came when the interview concluded with Brando leaning in, slapping King on each cheek and then giving him a big kiss on the lips.
In his memoir "Truth Be Told", King wrote that this interview was the one he was most asked about. "It ain't even close," he wrote.
A Celebrity In His Own Right
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"Larry King Live" became one of CNN's most popular shows, and King became as big a celebrity as the stars he was interviewing.
His interviewing style, he revealed, came from doing minimal preparation. "I hate interviewers who come with a long list of prepared questions because they're going to depend on going from the fourth question to the fifth question without listening to the answer of the fourth question," he once said. "Like if you wrote a book, I wouldn't read the book before I interviewed you, because I would then know too much about the book."
Pop Culture Icon
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In addition to his own show, Larry King also played himself in numerous movies and TV series, including Jerry Seinfeld's “Bee Movie", “Murphy Brown”, “The Simpsons” and many more.
One of his most famous movie appearances is arguably his cameo in "Ghostbusters". Filmed while doing his radio show, King tells listeners, "Hi, this is Larry King. The phone-in topic today: ghosts and ghostbusting."
The Many, Many Wives Of Larry King
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Larry King wed Shawn Southwick in 1997. That marked the eighth time he walked down the aisle (he actually married one of his ex-wives — Playboy bunny Alene Akins — twice). King and Southwick separated in 2019 after 22 years of marriage, but hadn't officially divorced at the time of his death.
In a 2019 interview with People, King explained his many marriages. "When I grew up, nobody lived together. If you fell in love, you got married. And so I married the ones that I loved... what I loved at 20 is not what I loved at 30 and what I loved at 30 is not what I loved at 40."
Health Issues Over The Years
Larry King's three-pack-a-day cigarette habit and love of rich, fried food caught up with him in in 1987, when he had what would be the first of several heart attacks; his most recent came in 2019. He also waged a battle with lung cancer in 2017, and suffered a stroke in early 2019 that hampered his ability to walk.
Through it all, King continued to do what he does best. “Being in [a] wheelchair doesn’t affect you, hosting a show,” he said of continuing to work after his stroke. “I’m proud to be able to do that.”
'Larry King Now'
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After exiting CNN ("Larry King Live" was replaced by "Piers Morgan Live", which was cancelled in 2014), King kept on talking.
In 2012 he launched a new version of his talk show, "Larry King Now", the first offering for on-demand Ora TV, bankrolled by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.
The show was subsequently added to the Hulu streaming service, and can also be seen on YouTube.
Larry King's Presidential Popularity
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Sitting down for a Larry King interview became a rite of passage for U.S. presidents.
In fact, King interviewed every president since Gerald Ford.
Hospitalized With COVID-19
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In early January 2021, news broke that Larry King had been hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19. He was released from the ICU on Jan. 5 and was reported to be breathing on his own.
The Philosophy That Guided His Career
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Larry King will always be remembered as leaning in close to to his guests, listening intently. Listening, he explained, was the secret to his success.
"I've never learned anything," King once said, "while I was talking."