US talk show host Larry King dies aged 87

Broadcaster, known for his soft interview style, had been hospitalised with Covid-19 symptoms

An excerpt from Larry Kings 1994 interview with civil rights activist Rosa Parks. Video: CNN

 

Larry King, the American broadcaster and cable news interviewer of celebrities and public figures, has died at the age of 87. He had been hospitalised at Cedars-Sinai medical center in Los Angeles with symptoms of the coronavirus.

A statement on King’s social media accounts confirmed the news on Saturday.

“For 63 years,” it said, “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.”

With his trademark suspenders, gravelly Brooklyn accent and under-prepared questioning – he often said he preferred entering an interview knowing no more than his audience, so he could ask the questions they would – King became, over the course of six decades, one of America’s most recognisable media figures. At its height, his flagship CNN show, Larry King Live, which he hosted for 25 years, drew 1.5 million viewers a night.

Republican presidential nominee George W Bush and his wife Laura appear with talk show host Larry King on Larry King Live in Los Angeles in 2000. Photograph: Tannen Maury/AFP/Getty Images
Republican presidential nominee George W Bush and his wife Laura appear with talk show host Larry King on Larry King Live in Los Angeles in 2000. Photograph: Tannen Maury/AFP/Getty Images

“While it was his name appearing in the show’s titles,” the statement announcing his death said, “Larry always viewed his interview subjects as the true stars of his programs and himself as merely an unbiased conduit between the guest and audience. Whether he was interviewing a US president, foreign leader, celebrity, scandal-ridden personage or an everyman, Larry liked to ask short direct and uncomplicated questions.”

The broadcaster, known for his soft interview style (“If you approach [an interview] combatively you get defensiveness and you don’t learn much,” he told the Guardian in 2015), conducted more than 30,000 interviews during his career, according to CNN, including sit-downs with such public figures as Yasser Arafat, Nelson Mandela and Vladimir Putin, every president from Richard Nixon to his friend Donald Trump, and celebrities from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga.

Born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger on November 19th, 1933 in Brooklyn to Orthodox Jewish immigrant parents – his father Aaron, a restaurant owner, was from Austria, and his mother Jennie, a garment worker, hailed from Lithuania – the Peabody-winning broadcaster grew up dreaming of a career in radio. He got his break as a morning DJ in Miami Beach, Florida, in 1957, and expanded to national broadcasting in 1978, as he cultivated a devoted audience with his meandering interviews and personal digressions.

Russian president Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with CNN interviewer Larry King before the start his interview in New York in 2000. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images
Russian president Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with CNN interviewer Larry King before the start his interview in New York in 2000. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

The nascent cable news network CNN granted King a primetime show in 1985, which he hosted until he was contentiously replaced by the British TV personality Piers Morgan in 2010.

King continued to host specials for the network until 2012, when he left CNN to launch a production venture, Ora TV, with the Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. King drew criticism in recent years for his work with RT (previously Russia Today), a Russian state broadcaster which picked up his political and talkshow programmes in 2013.

King, who was married eight times to seven women (his final marriage, to Shawn Southwick, ended in divorce in 2019) had survived a major heart attack in 1987, lung cancer in 2017, an angioplasty and stroke in 2019, as well as the death of two of his five children – son Andy (65) from a heart attack, and daughter Chaia (51) from lung cancer – within five weeks in August 2020.

Larry King and his wife Shawn Southwick with their sons Chance and Cannon arrive for the premiere of Rugrats Go Wild in Los Angeles in 2003. Photograph: Chris Delmas/AFP
Larry King and his wife Shawn Southwick with their sons Chance and Cannon arrive for the premiere of Rugrats Go Wild in Los Angeles in 2003. Photograph: Chris Delmas/AFP

The Peabody-winning broadcaster told the Guardian in 2015 that he was most proud of being a father to his five children and his many awards, including a lifetime achievement Emmy. “Hopefully I’ve brought enjoyment and knowledge to people by being a conduit,” he said.

The statement announcing his death, from Ora media, said King’s interviews would “remain part of the historical record of the late 20th and early 21st centuries”.

The statement also contained “condolences to his surviving children Larry Jr, Chance, Cannon and the entire King family”, and said funeral arrangements and a memorial service “will be announced later in coordination with the king family who ask for their privacy at this time”. – Guardian