Larry King at the celebrity chef, restaurateur and actor Wolfgang Puck’s Hollywood walk of fame Star receiving ceremony at Hollywood Blvd on April 26, 2017 in Los Angeles, CA. (Shutterstock)
By Tom Kludt, Brad Parks and Ray Sanchez, CNN
(CNN) – Larry King, the longtime CNN host who became an icon through his interviews with countless newsmakers and his sartorial sensibilities, has died. He was 87.
King hosted “Larry King Live” on CNN for over 25 years, interviewing presidential candidates, celebrities, athletes, movie stars and everyday people. He retired in 2010 after taping more than 6,000 episodes of the show.
A statement was posted on his verified Facebook account announcing his passing. His son, Chance, confirmed King’s death Saturday morning.
“With profound sadness, Ora Media announces the death of our co-founder, host and friend Larry King, who passed away this morning at age 87 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles,” the statement said.
“For 63 years and across the platforms of radio, television and digital media, Larry’s many thousands of interviews, awards, and global acclaim stand as a testament to his unique and lasting talent as a broadcaster.” The statement did not give a cause of death.
He battled a number of health problems
He interviewed every president from Ford to Obama
In an era filled with star newsmen, King was a giant — among the most prominent questioners on television and a host to presidents, movie stars, and world-class athletes.
With an affable, easygoing demeanor that distinguished him from more intense TV interviewers, King perfected a casual approach to the Q&A format, always leaning forward and listening intently to his guests, rarely interrupting.
“I’ve never learned anything,” King was fond of saying, “while I was talking.”
CNN founder Ted Turner, in a statement, said news of King’s death “felt like a punch to the gut.”
“Larry was one of my closest and dearest friends and, in my opinion, the world’s greatest broadcast journalist of all time,” he said. “If anyone asked me what are my greatest career achievements in life, one is the creation of CNN, and the other is hiring Larry King. Like so many who worked with and knew Larry, he was a consummate professional, an amazing mentor to many and a good friend to all. The world has lost a true legend.”
Jeff Zucker, CNN President, on Saturday acknowledged King’s role in raising the network’s profile around the world.
“We mourn the passing of our colleague Larry King,” he said in a statement.
“The scrappy young man from Brooklyn had a history-making career spanning radio and television. His curiosity about the world propelled his award-winning career in broadcasting, but it was his generosity of spirit that drew the world to him. We are so proud of the 25 years he spent with CNN, where his newsmaker interviews truly put the network on the international stage. From our CNN family to Larry’s, we send our thoughts and prayers, and a promise to carry on his curiosity for the world in our work.”
For that quarter-century, King hosted “Larry King Live” on CNN, a span that was highlighted by more than 30,000 interviews, including every sitting president from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama, and thousands of phone calls from viewers.
Wendy Walker, his longtime executive producer on the show, said King treated all of his interview subjects the same — from heads of state to ordinary Americans.
He started his media career as a disc jockey
Born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger on November 19, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, King was raised by two Jewish immigrants. His mother, Jennie (Gitlitz) Zeiger, was from Lithuania, while his father, Edward Zeiger, hailed from Ukraine. Edward died of a heart attack when King was 10, a memory King said he mostly “blocked out.”
Left to raise King and his younger brother Marty alone, Jennie Zeiger was forced to go on welfare to support her children. The death had a profound effect on King, and his mother.
“Prior to his death, I’d been a good student but afterwards, I just stopped being interested,” King told The Guardian in a 2015 interview. “It was a real blow to me. But eventually, I channeled that anger because I wanted to make him and my mother proud.”
King said his father had enormous influence on him, instilling in his son a sense of humor and a love of sports. And no sport drew more of King’s affection than baseball.
His CNN show premiered in 1985
It was around this time that King entered what would become a string of failed marriages. His union with Frada Miller was annulled, and the dates of his second marriage with Annette Kaye are publicly unavailable. From 1961-63, King was married to Alene Akins, whom he married again from 1967-71; before they re-married, King tied the knot with Mickey Sutphin in 1964 before they divorced in 1966.
He had two more divorces — with Sharon Lepore, with whom he was married from 1976-82, and Julie Alexander, with whom he was married from 1989-92 — before marrying his seventh wife, Shawn Southwick in 1997 at UCLA Medical Center, as he was about to undergo cardiac surgery. King filed for divorce from Southwick in 2019, citing irreconcilable differences.
King remained in Miami for years, eventually getting hired as a columnist for the Miami Herald in 1965. In 1971, he was arrested in Miami on charges of grand larceny, which led to his suspension from the station and newspaper where he was employed. Although the charges were dismissed the following year, King was not re-hired, prompting him to decamp Florida and head to Louisiana, where he worked as a freelance journalist.
By 1978, King returned to Miami and to WIOD, the station where he was employed at the time of his arrest. The same year, “The Larry King Show” launched as a syndicated late-night radio show. It originally aired in 28 cities; within five years, it had spread to 118 cities, serving as the springboard to fame. The show won a Peabody Award in 1982.
In 1985, “Larry King Live” premiered on CNN, beginning a long and storied run that included a number of high-profile interviews. Throughout its more than two decades on air, the show was routinely CNN’s most-watched program, and King was arguably the network’s biggest star.
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