Larry King's curiosity was the secret to his legendary talk-show career – a good reminder for us all
Radio, TV legend Larry King dies at 87
Larry King, legendary talk show host and a broadcast pioneer, dies at the age of 87.
Lawrence Harvey Zeiger, better known as longtime CNN talk-show host Larry King, who died Saturday at the age of 87 and who had most recently battled COVID-19, knew what he wanted to do with his life from a very early age.
“Even as a kid, it was clear to me. I always wanted to be on the radio,” he remembered. “Always.”
Growing up a passionate baseball fan in New York City, King recalled chasing down players on the Brooklyn Dodgers, not for autographs – but to ask them questions.
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“I once ran along the street with Pee Wee Reese for four blocks,” he reminisced, referring to the team’s Hall of Fame shortstop. “I wanted to ask him about bunting, because he bunted differently from the rest of the guys. I asked him if he got his name Pee Wee because he was a marble player.”
Reese confirmed the rumor.
“That was fascinating to me,” King said.
LETS BE REAL: Guest star Larry King in LETS BE REAL airing Thursday, Oct. 1 (9:00-9:30 ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
A chance encounter on a neighborhood street with a family friend prompted the 23-year-old to move to Miami. The gentleman had suggested it was a good radio city for beginners because it contained no union requirement to be on the air.
“I’ve just had a burning curiosity,” said King, whose first radio boss in Miami, thinking “Zeiger” was “too Jewish,” made him change his last name minutes before going on the air. An ad in the Miami Herald promoting “King’s Liquors” prompted the suggested alias.
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“I am a ‘why’ person,” he once told an interviewer. “And I am the kind of person that you don’t want to have sitting next to you on an airplane.”
“My mother would take me to the dentist, and I would ask him why he did his job, I would ask plumbers who came to the house about why they liked pipes.”
Indeed, the Sunshine State proved to be ideal for the rising star. Hosting a remote morning show for WKAT at Pumpernik’s restaurant on Miami Beach, King’s impromptu interviewing of unexpected guests — including celebrities like Don Rickles, Ella Fitzgerald and Danny Thomas — foreshadowed the format of his future legendary shows.
UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1987: Lary King Radio and television personality on the air with the Mutrual Radio Network circa 1987. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Broadcasting for 64 years on both radio and television, King interviewed more than 60,000 individuals – everyone from presidents to prime ministers and celebrities of every age and stage of their career.
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King’s longevity was attributable to his natural gifts and talents, of course. He was good at what he did, did a lot of it, and clearly loved the craft – a key to any successful professional life.
But it was King’s selfless and mostly agenda-free style of interviewing, along with a willingness to let his guests do most of the talking, that separated him from competitors and that catapulted him to radio and television royalty. In a day and age when many hosts leverage their platforms to pontificate, King was determined to ask short, simple questions – and actually listen with interest to the guest’s answers.
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Neither fame nor fortune seemed to sway his loyalties or loves, though King admittedly struggled in his personal life – marrying and divorcing eight times. He said he could control an interview – a wife, not so much. But he kept the same childhood friends all his life, meeting up daily for breakfast with a group of them at a neighborhood deli in Beverly Hills.
You’d also be hard-pressed to have found a more generous, big-hearted guy.
UNDATED FILE PHOTO: Larry King and wife Sharon. (Photo by Diane Freed)
Nearly four years ago, I reached out to Larry to ask if he’d be willing to contribute to an adoption book I was writing. He graciously agreed, penning a wonderful essay on the importance of curiosity. The whole point of the book was that adoption touches every life because adoptees, from George Washington Carver to Steve Jobs, have changed the world and by extension, have changed you and me.
Larry loved the concept and the book because in many ways, it complemented his fiercely curious spirit – always eager to connect the dots and learn something new.
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“The more you know, the more you realize you just don’t know,” he told me.
Larry King’s long, colorful and fascinating life is a reminder of what self-improvement guru Dale Carnegie first taught almost a century ago – that you can get farther in life “in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.”
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