New York Daily News

Now he might interview God

BROADCAST LEGEND KING DIES OF COVID AT AGE 87

- BY TIM BALK AND LARRY MCSHANE

For 25 years on CNN, the celebrity guests lined up for a shot to sit opposite Larry King: presidents and pop stars, Hollywood actors and actresses, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.

King, the amiable Brooklyn-born talk show host who conducted some 50,000 interviews across a decadeslon­g career, died Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after a battle with coronaviru­s. The 87-year-old was hospitaliz­ed with COVID-19 since late December, and his family said funeral arrangemen­ts and a memorial service will be announced.

“I lost a dear friend and mentor,” said Ryan Seacreast, the co-host of the morning show “Live With Kelly and Ryan” and one of King’s many unabashed fans. “Rest in peace, Larry King.”

The ever-inquisitiv­e King rose to prominence with a radio show on the Mutual Broadcasti­ng System between 1978 and 1994. But his greatest notoriety came as the host of CNN’s nightly centerpiec­e “Larry King Live,” which launched in 1985.

King’s look never changed: Hornrimmed glasses and suspenders, hair swept back, no jacket and a prop vintage microphone on his desk. He was joined by a steady stream of major league guests from all walks of life: Frank Sinatra, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Elizabeth Taylor, Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Paris Hilton, Bill Gates.

King welcomed presidents from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama, and quizzed Donald Trump about his political aspiration­s back in 1987.

After each interview, Kin,g paused to let his loyal viewers call in with questions of their own. The format was a smash: At its peak in the 1990s, more than 1.5 million nightly viewers tuned in for “Larry King Live” and Washington­ian magazine cited King as the country’s most influentia­l media personalit­y.

Larry King was born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger on Nov. 19, 1933, in the Brownsvill­e neighborho­od of Brooklyn. His father ran a bar and his mother worked as a seamstress.

From an early age, he wanted to work as a broadcaste­r. When he was 9, his father died of a heart attack. His cash-strapped mother moved him and his brother, Marty, to an attic apartment in Bensonhurs­t.

King turned his attention to radio. After graduating from high school and working some odd jobs, he headed to South Florida to work as a local station DJ — and changed his last name.

In 1959, he scored his first celebrity interview with singer Bobby Darin, and quickly gained a foothold in Miami media. He wrote newspaper columns, worked on TV and hosted theater openings.

King’s career hit a pothole in 1971 when he was charged with grand larceny and accused of stealing from a business partner. The charges were dropped, but he disappeare­d from the airwaves for a spell.

He returned to radio, where his local show soon became a national product on the Mutual Broadcasti­ng System. The program helped him land the CNN gig, and he continued to split time between national TV and radio for years. In 1989, he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.

His first “Larry King Live” show featured Mario Cuomo, then governor of New York. He was followed by an endless parade of guests, from Lady Gaga to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela — and even the typically reticent Marlon Brando, who bizarrely planted a kiss on King.

King brought a conversati­onal approach to interviews and avoided heavy preparatio­n. He asked simple, short questions, and his program stood in a contrast to the pitched partisan broadcasts that came to dominate cable news.

King prided himself on the ability to delicately draw on sensitive topics without harassing his guests.

“If you don’t listen, you’re not a good interviewe­r. I hate interviewe­rs who come with a long list of prepared questions,” King told the Columbia Journalism Review in 2017. “I concentrat­e solely on the answer, and I trust my instincts to come up with questions.”

But his laissez faire approach had its pitfalls. During a 2007 interview with Jerry Seinfeld, King asked if the comedian’s smash sitcom was canceled or shut down by its star.

“Do you think I was canceled?” asked a shocked Seinfeld. “I thought

that was pretty well documented, Larry. Do you know who I am? 75 million viewers on the last show, Larry.”

King stepped away from the bright lights of prime time in 2010 after his ratings slumped. In recent years, he hosted a talk show called “Larry King Now” through Ora TV.

Health woes eventually slowed King, a three-pack-a-day cigarette smoker before a 1987 heart attack. In 2017, the legendary newsman was diagnosed with lung cancer and he suffered a stroke two years later.

The old-school talk show czar brought a whimsical approach to social media. Once, he tweeted: “I’ve never been in a canoe.”

And when he used the platform, he personally dictated his posts into his flip phone after calling a specially set-up voicemail, The Washington Post reported in 2015.

“I love what I do,” he said. “I don’t do it for fame. I don’t do it for money. I just love it. I just love asking questions. I love people.”

He also loved falling in love. King was married eight times to seven women.

King was survived by his sons Chance, Cannon and Larry. On Thanksgivi­ng, he tweeted an image of himself sitting and wearing a black Los Angeles Dodgers hat after celebratin­g his hometown team’s World Series triumph some 3,000 miles from Ebbets Field.

Despite his formidable stature as a newsman and his lengthy list of honors — including two Peabody Awards and an Emmy Award for lifetime achievemen­t — King preferred to present himself as a regular guy without a college degree.

“For this to all happen to a Jewish kid from Brooklyn,” he told the London Guardian in 1994, “is a damn impressive thing.”

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 ??  ?? Brooklyn’s own Larry King waves outside the Brooklyn Museum, has a grip on then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, pals with Dr. Ruth Westheimer and talks it up with boxer Mike Tyson. The TV and talk radio icon died Saturday of COVID.
Brooklyn’s own Larry King waves outside the Brooklyn Museum, has a grip on then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, pals with Dr. Ruth Westheimer and talks it up with boxer Mike Tyson. The TV and talk radio icon died Saturday of COVID.
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