Larry King Dead at 87: 'Instead of Goodbye, How About So Long?'
Broadcast legend Larry King, who perfected the art of the breezy celebrity interview and became an American institution in the process, died early Saturday in L.A. He was 87.
He had battled, in his long life, a heart attack resulting in quintuple-bypass surgery, lung cancer, a stroke, and had been hospitalized with COVID-19 for weeks at the time of his death.
King's passing was confirmed by his Ora Media in a statement that read, in part: "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."
He was remembered warmly by Jeff Zucker of CNN, who said in a statement to "Extra," "We mourn the passing of our colleague Larry King. 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."
King was born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger on November 19, 1933, in Brooklyn. After his father died young, the family sank into poverty, which King said humbled him for life. He always wanted to work in broadcasting, moving to the emerging media market of Miami for his first radio job, at WAHR, where he deejayed for the first time on May 1, 1957. He was rarely off the air in one form or another since.
King — a name he chose from a commercial liquor brand — did man-on-the-street interviews for WIOD, which led to his specialty, the friendly celebrity interview, when one of the men on the street turned out to be singing sensation Bobby Darin.
With a folksy demeanor spiked with a New York directness, King became a huge hit locally, catapulted to a new level of recognition after a marathon interview with television great Jackie Gleason.
Following an arrest for grand larceny over a business dispute (all charges were dropped), King spent much of the '70s hosting a sports show ("Sports-a-la-King") ahead of his national debut on January 30, 1978.
R.I.P. Larry King. I loved his all night radio show in the 80’s. You could call in at 1 in the morning and just riff for hours. His radio show made a great opening for Lost In America. Rest easy Larry.
The show kept King live every weeknight from midnight until morning, conducting interviews, fielding phone calls, and hosting open forums on the issues of the day. He entertained some doozies from night owls and whack-a-doos — and never shied away from interviewing oddballs, his natural curiosity always on display.
King solidified his grasp on the interview format via "Larry King Live," his iconic CNN show that aired from June 1985 (first guest: Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York) until December 2010 (on which President Barack Obama said, via recorded message, that King had "opened our eyes to the world beyond our living rooms"), when he was replaced by Piers Morgan, who bombed.
Larry King was a Brooklyn boy who become a newsman who interviewed the newsmakers. He conducted over 50,000 interviews that informed Americans in a clear and plain way.
New York sends condolences to his family and many friends.
During the show's run, he interviewed virtually every noteworthy public figure, from the reclusive Marlon Brando to the elusive Madonna ("If we have to tell you who she is, you've got problems!"), from notorious Patty Hearst to a live debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot that attracted 16 million viewers, one of his most-watched installments. In 2007, he interviewed cancer-stricken ex-televangelist Tammy Faye Messner when she weighed 65 lbs.; she died the next morning.
He sat with cheeky newcomers like Lady Gaga and living legends like Frank Sinatra, of whom King said, "He did not do interviews. Jackie Gleason was a friend of mine… and got him for me. He did a three-hour interview with me, owing Gleason a favor."
King was also known to make some charming mistakes, such as when he called Ringo Starr "George," or when he asked Jerry Seinfeld about the cancellation of his massive hit "Seinfeld." Seinfeld sparred with King, saying, "You're under the impression that I got canceled? That was the number-one show on television, Larry. Do you know who I am?"
He once asked real-estate kingpin Donald Trump, "Does it have to be buildings?"
King was often at his best when drawing out thoughtful responses from power brokers who knew he would not rattle off gotcha questions, such as every president since Nixon (Clinton was a self-professed favorite) and two lengthy sit-downs with Russia's Vladimir Putin.
When "Larry King Live" ended, he wrapped things up with, "I... I... I don't know what to say except to you, my audience, thank you. And instead of goodbye, how about so long?"
Among his many other accomplishments, King wrote a column for "USA Today" (1982-2001), hosted CNN specials until 2012, hosted "Larry King Now" on his Ora TV (2013-2020), and hosted the show "Politicking with Larry King" (2013-2021).
One of his latest-breaking viral moments came in his February 2020 interview with Danny Pudi, who he was prodding to reveal a "luxury you can't live without." Pudi came up with coffee and socks, which disappointed King, who said he was thinking more along the lines of a private jet. Pudi retorted, "Larry — I'm on 'DuckTales' and 'Mythic Quest'! There's no private planes for me!"
In all, King estimated he had conducted 40,000 interviews over 60 years.
King himself became a celebrity thanks to his inimitable style, the uber mensch with the suspenders who sometimes misspoke, as when he felt compelled to apologize to a beauty pageant contestant in 1990 after Joan Rivers asked him to ID the "ugliest" Miss America hopeful that year and King, who had judged the event, quipped, "Miss Pennsylvania... She did a great ventriloquist bit... The dummy was prettier."
King also attracted attention due to his storied personal life. Married eight times to seven different women, he is survived by his wife Shawn, to whom he was wed in 1997 and from whom he had been estranged for some time before an apparent reunion ahead of his death.
He was the father of five children, nine grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Two of his adult children, Andy and Chaia, preceded him in death in August 2020.
Listen to King speak with the Rev. Billy Graham about death here.
Befitting his status as a bona fide broadcast legend, King has been remembered on social media by a raft of luminaries:
Larry King was a friend through thick and thin. A masterful interviewer and storyteller. He helped put CNN on the map by making news through the art of dialogue.. May he Rest In Peace.
Because of Larry King, I got the opportunity to guest host his show Larry King Live. What an honor to fill the suspenders of such an icon! He was a great friend of @TheMuppets and the world. Thank you, Larry.
I mourn the passing of Larry King whom I have known for nearly 40 years. He was a great interviewer - sensitivity, humorous and witty. And he actually let you talk! An all around mensch. Millions around the world shall miss him, including myself.
The Larry King show was a glue that helped hold things together. “I wonder who’s on Larry King tonight?” didn’t have a Left or Right feel; the show was a smart, non-contentious family conversation we had each night. Was on it several times and he was great. He set a high bar. RIP
Ryan Seacrest tweeted, "I lost a dear friend and mentor. Truly an American treasure. Rest in peace, Larry King."
Wendy Williams tweeted, "Sad news this morning. TV broadcasting legend Larry King has passed away. He was 87. #RIP."
Steve Kornacki tweeted, "Larry King was a radio and TV legend with an insatiable curiosity about people and a real sense of humor. He could get anyone talking, from Hollywood stars to the guy on the corner. In the 1990s, Larry King Live even became the most important show in American politics. RIP."
Frequent interview subject Kathy Griffin tweeted, "So many memories with Larry King. There was simply no one like him. I remember all the conversations we had in the commercial breaks. He knew everybody, had stories about them all, yet still got excited like a little kid for a new laugh or a new revelation."
Viola Davis tweeted, "Oh no!!! RIP Larry King...what a Titan you were! One of our true icons. You are no longer in pain. Rest well."
Magic Johnson tweeted, "I’ve known Larry King since I arrived in LA 42 years ago. Larry King Live changed CNN in the 80s blending entertainment with news & I loved being on the show. Larry was one of the best interviewers on TV. Always well prepared, asked intelligent questions, & always made the interviews fun, serious, & entertaining! He was the biggest Dodgers fan & if you lived in LA you could catch him at his favorite booth in Nate and Al’s or at Brooklyn Bagels which he owned. Rest In Peace my friend! Cookie and I extend our prayers to the entire King family."
Billy Ray Cyrus tweeted, "Sad to hear about the passing of LarryKing. What an incredible man and legacy. #RIPLarryKing."
CNN's Christiane Amanpour called King "the ultimate master of the interview."
Charlie Puth tweeted, "It was an honor to have met you. Rest In Peace."