Larry King, the legendary talk-show host whose softball questions to everyone from politicians to celebrities, psychic, and even regular people caught up in scandal made him famous around the world, died on Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 87. Ora Media, the production company he co-founded with Mexican mogul Carlos Slim, said King died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center but did not specify a cause of death. King had been hospitalized with COVID-19 in late December.
King spent more than five decades working in radio and television but was best known for the 25 years he spent as host of his prime-time CNN show Larry King Live that ran from 1985 to 2010 and made him famous around the world. Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, called King “the most famous interviewer in the world.” He became such an icon that he played himself in dozens of TV shows and movies.
At the height of his popularity, millions of people across the United States and around the world tuned into King’s show every night to hear him talk to a variety of guests while sitting behind an RCA microphone and wearing suspenders. The son of European immigrants who grew up in Brooklyn grew a fanbase around his unassuming and unpretentious way of asking interviewers questions. Many politicians and controversial figures gave King exclusives, knowing that they would get a huge audience to air their views without the pushback of more traditional journalistic interviewers. “If other interview programs could resemble beds of nails, with ‘gotcha’ inquisitions of newsmakers, Mr. King’s show was a plush chaise longue,” notes the Washington Post. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times once described King’s show as the place “where politicians and other figures of controversy or celebrity can go to unwind, kick back and reflect.”
King liked to say that he almost never prepared for interviews. If his guest had written a book, for example, King wasn’t too concerned with reading it and simply asked what it was about. He publicly talked about how he disliked interviewers who appeared to try to show off how much they knew about a subject, saying that it was his guests who should be on the spotlight. He was on a news network but King didn’t claim to be a journalist and characterized his show as “infotainment.”
Eventually his formula for interviews fell out of favor as audiences had more options and started to gravitate toward more partisan programming. He stopped doing his CNN show in December, 2010 only to reappear on an online talk show and state-financed Russian television network RT that had the name Larry King Now.
King was born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrants from Russia. He was married eight times to seven women and battled numerous health problems throughout his life, including several heart attacks. Two of his children died within weeks of each other last year. He is survived by three sons.