Emmy-winning TV host Larry King has died. He was 87 years old.
His official Twitter account posted an announcement of his death on 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,” it read. “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.”
Called “the master of the mic” by Time magazine, King was a mainstay on CNN, with his genial style, trademark suspenders and black eyeglasses. “Larry King Live,” which ran for 25 years until 2010, featured interviews with newsmakers and celebrities, as well as calls and emails from viewers. King’s show was mostly based out of CNN’s studios in Los Angeles, but at times he traveled with the show to CNN outposts in New York, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta.
Jeff Zucker, CNN chief and head of news and sports for WarnerMedia, said King’s show “put the network on the international stage.”
“The scrappy young man from Brooklyn had a history-making career spanning radio and television,” Zucker said. “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.”
SAG-AFTRA paid its respects to the broadcaster who had been a member of the performers union since 1968.
“From heads of state to the most popular entertainers of the day, Larry King interviewed them all. His warm, avuncular manner drew guests, listeners and viewers alike,” said Gabrielle Carteris, president of SAG-AFTRA. “Over a career of more than six decades, he was equally comfortable on radio, television and digital media, and he never stopped connecting with audiences. His distinctive voice will be sorely missed.”
King had been hospitalized with COVID-19 since late December.
He had suffered a number of health issues over the years, including having surgery for lung cancer in 2017 and quintuple bypass surgery in 1987, after which he established the Larry King Cardiac Foundation and wrote several books about heart disease. He suffered a heart attack in April 2019.
King also made cameos in numerous films, including “Ghostbusters” (1984), “Dave” (1993), “Primary Colors” (1998), “Enemy of the State” (1998), “America’s Sweethearts” (2001), “Shrek 2” (2004) and “Shrek the Third” (2007).
His TV appearances included “Murphy Brown,” “Spin City,” “The Practice,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Ugly Betty,” “The Closer,” “Big Love,” “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” “The Simpsons” and “30 Rock.”
King wrote a newspaper column in USA Today for 20 years. When it ended, he took to Twitter, amassing 2.8 million followers for folksy observations from his @kingsthings Twitter such as “Kosher hotdogs are the best hotdogs” or “I like September but I love October.”
King considered himself an interviewer rather than a journalist and famously did not prepare for interviews, a practice that drew criticism and led to some awkward on-air moments, such as when King asked ex-Beatle George Harrison’s widow about a song written for Harrison’s first wife.
He believed in exchanges featuring “human” rather than “press-conference” questions and saw his more free-wheeling style as a way to put himself in his listeners’ shoes and pose more honest questions to his guests.
“My lack of preparation really forces me to learn, and to listen,” he said.
The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which awarded him a News and Docu Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 2011, called “Larry King Live” “a must-stop for presidents and politicians” that “gave viewers direct access to some of the most important and influential people in the United States and the world.” King “changed the landscape of cable television, and television news in general,” the TV Academy said.
King “created the habit of tuning into cable at night,” said former CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein. “He made it OK to watch cable.”
On his show he addressed topics ranging from weighty political issues to the media sensation of the moment. In 1993, King hosted a debate on his show between then-Vice President Al Gore and Ross Perot on the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement. The debate drew 16.3 million viewers, the highest ratings in CNN history. It also helped sway public opinion on NAFTA. Before the debate, support for the agreement was at 34%. After the debate, it was at 57%. The House of Representatives passed NAFTA days later.
“Larry King Live” also served as the launchpad for Perot’s 1992 presidential bid, setting the template for a new style of campaigning as other political hopefuls ducked standard press conferences and traditional reporter questions in favor of call-in shows like King’s.
Over the course of his career, King clocked more than 50,000 interviews, according to CNN, with guests ranging from U.S. presidents (every one from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama) and international figures such as the Dalai Lama to a long list of celebrities.
In 1989, “The Guinness Book of World Records” credited King as having racked up more hours on national radio than any other talkshow host in history. In his CNN era, King was known for his trademark sign-off: “One, four, three and arrivederch,” which translated to “I love you” (for the number of letters in each word) and his Brooklyn-ese pronunciation of the Italian word for goodbye.
He first went nationwide in 1978 with radio program “The Larry King Show” on the Mutual Radio network. The show’s original timeslot was from midnight to 5:30 a.m., and its format included a guest interview, guest responses to listeners calling in and a segment called “Open Phone America,” in which callers could discuss any topic they wished.
In 1993, the radio show moved from latenight to afternoon drive time, and its affiliates had grown from the original 28 to 410. In 1994, the network, now Westwood Mutual, began the first ever TV/radio talkshow simulcast of “Larry King Live,” which debuted on CNN in 1985.
“Larry King Live” was a weeknight fixture for 25 years. King left the program in 2010 but continued to host specials for CNN.
In 2012 King teamed with Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim to found digital network Ora TV, which produced his new Web talkshow “Larry King Now” for Hulu. He told interviewees he would never retire, and continued his interviews for Ora TV’s “Larry King Now” and “Politicking with Larry King” until his death.
Born Lawrence Harvey Zeigler, King grew up in Brooklyn. He started his career as a media personality in Miami Beach, first as a disc jockey, then as host of interview shows and as a color commentator for sportscasts. At the suggestion of a radio station general manager, he changed his name to make it more show-business friendly.
His local popularity led to other media gigs, including newspaper columns for the Miami Herald, the Miami News and the Miami Beach Sun-Reporter.
In 1971, however, King was arrested for grand larceny, accused of stealing from a business partner. The charges were dropped in 1972, but it was another four years before he was able to work regularly in broadcasting again.
In addition to his Lifetime Achievement Emmy, King also nabbed two Peabody Awards and 10 CableACE awards.
King was famous for his many marriages, with eight unions to seven different women.
He is survived by his wife, singer and actress Shawn Southwick-King, and children Cannon, Chance and Larry Jr. He is predeceased by two children, Chaia and Andy, who died within weeks of each other in 2020.
Read the full statement below:
— Larry King (@kingsthings) January 23, 2021