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Larry King, Breezy Interviewer of the Famous and Infamous, Dies at 87

Written by on January 25, 2021

Larry King, who shot the breeze with presidents and psychics, movie stars and malefactors — anyone with a story to tell or a pitch to make — in a half-century on radio and television, including 25 years as the host of CNN’s globally popular “Larry King Live,” died on Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 87.

Ora Media, which Mr. King co-founded in 2012, confirmed the death in a statement posted on Mr. King’s own Twitter account and said he had died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The statement did not specify a cause of death, but Mr. King had recently been treated for Covid-19. In 2019, he was hospitalized for chest pains and said he had also suffered a stroke.

A son of European immigrants who grew up in Brooklyn and never went to college, Mr. King began as a local radio interviewer and sportscaster in Florida in the 1950s and ’60s, rose to prominence with an all-night coast-to-coast radio call-in show starting in 1978, and from 1985 to 2010 anchored CNN’s highest-rated, longest-running program, reaching millions across America and around the world.

With the folksy personality of a Bensonhurst schmoozer, Mr. King interviewed an estimated 50,000 people of every imaginable persuasion and claim to fame — every president since Richard M. Nixon, world leaders, royalty, religious and business figures, crime and disaster victims, pundits, swindlers, “experts” on U.F.O.s and paranormal phenomena, and untold hosts of idiosyncratic and insomniac telephone callers.

Mr. King might have made a fascinating guest on his own show: the delivery boy who became one of America’s most famous TV and radio personalities, a newspaper columnist, the author of numerous books and a performer in dozens of movies and television shows, mostly as himself.

His personal life was the stuff of supermarket tabloids — married eight times to seven women; a chronic gambler who declared bankruptcy twice; arrested on a fraud charge that derailed his career for years; and a bundle of contradictions who never quite got over his own success but gushed, star-struck, over other celebrities, exclaiming, “Great!” “Terrific!” “Gee whiz!”

He made no claim to being a journalist, although his show sometimes made news, as when Ross Perot announced his presidential candidacy there in 1992. And he was not confrontational; he rarely asked anyone, let alone a politician or policy maker, a tough or technical question, preferring gentle prods to get guests to say interesting things about themselves.

To former President Nixon: “When you drive by the Watergate, do you feel weird?”

To former President Ronald Reagan: “Is it, for you, frustrating to not remember something?”

To Donald J. Trump, when he was still best known as a real estate mogul: “Does it have to be buildings?”

He bragged that he almost never prepared for an interview. If his guest was an author promoting a book, he did not read it but asked simply, “What’s it about?” or “Why did you write this?”

Nor did he pose as an intellectual. He salted his talk with “ain’t,” and “the” sounded like “da.” To a public skeptical of experts, he seemed refreshingly average: just a curious guy asking questions impulsively.


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