Larry King is one of television’s most immediately recognizable personalities – and it’s not just because of his trademark suspenders and glasses. He devoted decades of his life sitting behind the microphone and inviting the nation to join him in hearing some of the people around the world who are worth listening to. From celebrities to beauty queens to influential world leaders to death row inmates, King interviewed them all. He’s a gifted interviewer who had a knack for getting people to open up.
Larry King’s real name is Lawrence Harvey Zeiger, and he was born on November 19, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York. His mother, Jennie, was a garment worker, and his father Aaron was a restaurant owner and a defense-plant worker.
When his father died at age 44 due to a heart attack, her mom, brother, and himself needed to be supported by welfare. King was greatly affected by his father’s death, so he worked to help support his mother after graduating from high school. He lost interest in school but had a desire to work in radio broadcasting.
Radio and Television Career
King met a CBS staff announcer by chance, and he suggested that King would go to Florida because it has job openings for inexperienced broadcasters. He tried his luck and went to Miami. After initial setbacks, he landed his first radio job at WAHR (now WMBM) in Miami Beach, when he was hired to clean up and perform miscellaneous tasks. When one of the announcers quit, King was chosen to replace him. He became a disc jockey in 1957 and worked from 9 in the morning to noon. He also did two-afternoon newscasts and a sportscast.
He got the name Larry King when the general manager claimed that his last name was too ethnic and hard to remember, so Larry chose King minutes before airtime after seeing an ad for King’s Wholesale Liquor. After two years, he changed his name legally to Larry King.
He began conducting interviews for a mid-morning show for WIOD. He later went on to host Miami Undercover on WPST-TV Channel 10, where he moderated debates about important issues of the day. WIOD gave further exposure to King when he became a color commentator for the Miami Dolphins of the NFL.
However, in 1971, King was arrested and charged with grand larceny for allegedly stealing money from a former friend and business partner. It caused WIOD to dismiss him. King also lost his weekly column at the Miami Beach Sun due to the incident. Charges were dropped, but the scandal left him temporarily unable to secure a job.
Eventually, King was re-hired by WIOD and hosted a sports talk show that featured guests and callers. In 1978, King went national on a nightly coast-to-coast broadcast at Mutual Broadcasting System. King’s show proved to be popular and got a rapidly increasing devoted audience.
From 1978 to 1994, King hosted the popular radio talk show The Larry King Show. In 1985, he went on to host the television talk show Larry King Live on CNN, which was a young network back then. His program was TV’s first live phone-in show with international audiences. His show became a popular platform for political candidates. Ross Perot notably announced his presidential candidacy on the show in 1992. Al Gore also used the show as a forum for debating the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Over time, King became popular internationally – as famous as the celebrities, world leaders, and newsmakers that he interviewed.
King stepped down from his nightly hosting of Larry King Live in 2010 but stated that he would stay with CNN to host occasional specials. Piers Morgan, a British tabloid journalist, was chosen to take over the show. King continued to interview notable personalities on Larry King Now, a talk show that premiered at Hulu in 2012, and in 2013, he added the talk show PoliticKING with Larry King.
Founding Ora TV
In 2012, King co-founded Ora TV, a production company, with business magnate Carlos Slim. The production company signed a multi-year deal with Hulu to carry King’s talk-oriented web series. In 2017, King stated that he doesn’t plan on retiring and expects to host his show until he dies.
Fascinating Facts about Larry King
1. Larry King has been married eight times to seven different women.
Of Larry’s eight marriages, two were to the same woman, Playboy bunny Alene Atkins, who was both his third and fifth wife. The two were only together for a combined total of about seven years. He had five children, but his son with his second wife, Annette Kaye – King did not meet him until his son was in his thirties.
2. King had a little car accident involving JFK.
When King was new to Miami in 1958, he got into a little fender-bender. He hit another car – one that was owned by politician and then-senator John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was angry and flummoxed over the accident, but calmed down eventually. He said Kennedy told him he would forget the whole thing if he just promised to vote for him when he ran for president.
3. King doesn’t prepare for his shows.
He prides in his direct, non-confrontational approach in interviewing people. He doesn’t spend time brushing up on the resumes of his interviewees, and he doesn’t read the books if he were to interview authors. This technique helps him learn things about the other person as the audiences learn them. Important figures were attracted to him, as they can state their position while avoiding any possible challenge on contentious topics.
As expected, this tactic led to some comical situations. One time when King was just starting on his career, he asked a Catholic priest if he had any children and how old they were. According to CNN, King has conducted more than 30,000 interviews throughout his career.
4. He shared a kiss with Marlon Brando.
In 1994, King had a very interesting interview with Marlon Brando conducted at the actor’s Beverly Hills home. The interview was bizarre – Brando forced King to shake his mastiff’s hand, but the most notable part was Brando kissing King on the mouth. A year later, King confessed that Brando is the only man who has ever kissed him on the lips.
5. King got married in a hospital room.
When King was about to get married for the eighth time to Shawn Southwick in 1997, he was scheduled to undergo a heart surgery just a few days later. So the couple decided to get married in the hospital room. Unlike his seven previous marriages, this one lasted for more than ten years – the first marriage for King to have lasted in the two digits. Sadly, the marriage still did not last forever. The couple filed for divorce in 2010 but reconciled and filed for divorce again in August 2019.