Larry King, the interviewer who bridged the gap between serious and entertainment journalism, has died after a month long battle with COVID-19. He was 87.
King, born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger in Brooklyn, NY in 1933 to Jewish immigrants, got his start when he relocated to Florida and started working at WAHR in Miami Beach doing menial tasks. Eventually, this led to on-air work at the station as a Disc Jockey and as a newscaster.
He got his start as an interviewer when asked by Miami Beach restaurant Pumpernik’s to interview guests in the venue after his morning radio shift ended. It was here that he honed his signature interview style: simple questions that would lead him and his guest down whatever path King’s curiosity would take them. He would interview whoever was in the restaurant at the time, be they patrons or the wait staff, or celebrities such as Bobby Darin and Jackie Gleason.
His success on the radio led him to more opportunities, including columns in the Miami Beach Sun Reporter, The Miami Herald and The Miami News and hosting jobs with local television station WPST-TV Channel 10.
His career almost came to an end in 1971, when he was arrested for grand larcency after taking thousands of dollars from financier Lou Wolfson under false pretenses (He told Wolfson that the money was to pay lawyers working to get Wolfson out of legal difficulties when there was no lawyers working on the case). The charges were later dropped, but not before King was fired from his numerous jobs and sent into career exile.
He would return to work at WIOD in 1975 and would begin to rebuild his name. This brought him to the attention of the national Mutual Broadcasting System, who in 1978 gave him a coast-to coast radio program, “The Larry King Show.” The show, which ran from midnight to 5:30 am, featured 90 minutes of interviews with newsmakers, 90 minutes of listener questions for the newsmaker, with the remaining time taken up by “Open Phone America,” where listeners would speak to King about whatever topics they had on their mind. King would continue on the radio program until 1994.
In 1985. spurred by his radio success, CNN gave King an hour of air time each night for Larry King Live. King, wearing his trademark dress shirt with rolled up sleeves and suspenders, featured King interviewing an away of guests ranging from politicians to celebrities, athletes to conspiracy theorists. The show lasted on CNN until 2010.
In addition, he had a weekly column in USA Today which ran for almost 20 years before ending in 2001. The column was a collection of King’s stream of consciousness musings delivered in a staccato fashion.
In 2012, he co-founded Ora TV and moved his interviewing into the digital medium, most notably with Larry King Now.
His success as an interviewer led him to a number of cameo appearances as himself in films ranging from Ghostbusters to Dave and TV shows ranging from 30 Rock to The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story. In addition, he provided the voice for Doris, the Ugly Stepsister in the Shrek film series.
King was married 8 times, twice to the same person. in 1987, He suffered a major heart attack that required open-heart surgery to perform a quintuple by-pass. He survived a lung cancer scare in 2017 and a stroke in 2019. He entered Cedar-Siani in late December suffering Coronavirus symptoms. He is survived by his current wife Shawn and five children from his many marriages.