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Overview for Larry King
Larry King

Larry King


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Also Known As: Lawrence Harvey Zeiger Died:
Born: November 19, 1933 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Brooklyn, New York, USA Profession: Cast ... talk show host columnist broadcaster writer actor delivery boy mail clerk


Dubbed "the Muhammad Ali of the broadcast interview," the Larry King was an American journalist, broadcaster and the suspender-wearing host of "Larry King Live" (CNN, 1985-2011), one of the longest running and most viewed interview programs on television. Over the course of his 50 years in broadcasting, King interviewed more than 40,000 individuals, including every American president since Gerald Ford; a joint interview with PLO chief Yassir Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan, and Yitzhak Rabin of Israel; and a debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot that earned the highest ratings in the history of CNN. Detractors labeled King's style as "softball," but viewers, critics and broadcast organizations consistently lauded him throughout his long, successful run.

Born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger in Brooklyn, NY, on Nov. 13, 1933, King's childhood was marked by tragedy and financial difficulty. His father, Edward, died when King was nine, forcing the family to seek welfare to make ends meet. King, who had dreamed of a career as a radio announcer since the age of five and thus, regularly practiced his vocal technique at home, was forced to put that ambition on hold and go to work to support his mother and brother. He worked in a string of menial jobs, including UPS deliveryman, until a chance encounter with a CBS broadcaster pointed him towards Florida. Opportunities in radio for less experienced broadcasters were available there, so King landed a job cleaning up at WIOD in Miami Beach. When an announcer quit the station, King took over his position, and by 1957, was working as a disc jockey and hosting two newscasts and a sportscast. King also adopted his surname while at WIOD, at the behest of the general manager who - in a common practice of those conservative times - found Zeiger too ethnic. King ended up borrowing the new handle from an ad for a local liquor store.

Eventually, King fell into his true niche with a mid-morning show that broadcast from an area restaurant, in which he conducted interviews with every person willing to sit at his microphone - from local figures to the restaurant's wait staff. Singer Bobby Darin became his first celebrity guest after hearing King's show on the radio and heading over to the restaurant before performing at a concert. King's style - comfortable, inquisitive and rarely combative - caught on with Miami listeners, so by 1960, he had moved to television to host a local debate program called "Miami Undercover" on WPST (now WPLG). But a taste for an extravagant lifestyle that sprung up in the wake of his success, led to serious financial difficulties for King. In 1971, he was arrested for grand larceny as part of a much-debated deal between himself and Wall Street financier Louis Wolfson, who had given King money to support New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, who was investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. According to Wolfson, not all the money lent to King made it to Garrison, and the radio personality was unable to repay the amount. King eventually plead no contest to passing bad checks, but the scandal effectively ended his broadcast career for three years. During that period, King worked as director of public relations for the Louisiana Downs racetrack, as well as penning several articles for Esquire magazine.

King made his way back to radio via color commentary for a Louisiana football broadcast, which helped pave his return to WIOD in Florida, and in 1978, inherited a nationally broadcast radio talk show from the late and popular host "Long" John Nebel. The program - now called "The Larry King Show" - which ran live from midnight to 5:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, was a combination of King's interviews, call-ins from listeners, and King's own op-ed piece, which closed the show. "The Larry King Show" ran until 1994, when King's time slot was shifted to mid-afternoon - a period usually reserved for local programming - and ratings suffered a decline.

King began "Larry King Live" in 1985 and viewers outside of the Miami area got to see the man behind the voice for the first time; King's outsized glasses, suspenders, and vintage RCA microphones quickly became established trademarks, as did his staccato delivery and habit of addressing his callers by their hometown instead of by name. But beyond King's personality and approach, the calling card for the program was the sheer name value of his guests. In a given month, King could feature chats with political figures like Bill and Hilary Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, and John F. Kennedy, Jr., as well as sports, music and movie personalities like Audrey Hepburn, Prince, and Mike Tyson. King was frequently accused by critics for lobbing "softball" questions at his major league guests, but for sheer star power, few other talk show hosts could claim King's drawing power. "Live" also enjoyed an additional perk as the first daily television talk show to be simulcast on cable and on radio via the Westwood One network.

But King used his program for more than just a promotional platform for celebrities. His ratings numbers (the highest for CNN) frequently allowed him to use the program as a forum for serious political discussion, such as the aforementioned debate between then-Vice President Gore and Perot over the North American Free Trade Agreement (or NAFTA), which netted some 16.3 million viewers. King also broadcast for 37 straight days during the 2000 presidential elections and subsequent voting recount, featuring interviews with candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore. Following the attacks on American on Sept. 11, 2001, King hosted some 700 guests to discuss the tragedy, and in 2003, welcomed Queen Noor of Jordan and top military officials and ambassadors from the Middle East to discuss the invasion of Iraq. King also broadcast for 20 consecutive evenings after Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005, and hosted a three-hour special that instructed viewers on how to donate to relief funds.

Of course, King's celebrity guests also netted ratings numbers. His 2003 interview with a corpulent and seemingly addled Marlon Brando - which culminated with a full kiss on King's lips from the actor - sent entertainment reporting into a frenzy. King also hosted a 2001 program dedicated to the surviving members of the Beatles following the death of George Harrison, as well the final interview with Tammy Faye Messner prior to her death from cancer in 2007 - and in one of his more embarrassing scoops - the first post-jail with socialite Paris Hilton in June 2007. More controversial were his shows devoted to the paranormal, which featured such headline-grabbing psychics like James Van Praagh and John Edward, though King occasionally allowed professional debunkers like James Randi to debate these guests on the air.

King's powerhouse schedule was frequently challenged by serious health risks, beginning with a 1987 heart attack, which was followed by quintuple bypass surgery. The experience spurred him to launch The Larry King Cardiac Foundation in 1988, which provided funding for life-saving treatments for patients who were unable to afford bypass surgery and other similar procedures. In 1998, a routine checkup revealed that King had type 2 diabetes, but the improvements he made in his health following the surgery helped make his transition into caring for this problem a relatively easy one.

King netted an astonishing number of accolades during his career, including George Foster Peabody Awards for both his radio and television shows in 1982 and 1999, respectively. He also claimed an Emmy for Outstanding Interviewer and a whopping 10 Cable ACE awards for best talk show and best interviewer. He also claimed Harvard University's Mahoney Award in 2000, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997, a President's Award from the Los Angeles Press Club in 1996, and a place in the Radio Hall of Fame in 1989. King also received numerous honorary degrees and awards for his philanthropic endeavors, which included a $1 million journalism scholarship at George Washington University's School of Media and Affairs for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, King's greatest award was perhaps the celebration of his own longevity. To much media hoopla, he was feted by fellow talk show hosts like Jay Leno and Ellen Degeneres in 2007 to mark the occasional of his 50th year in broadcasting.

In all, King conducted over 30,000 interviews from his Washington DC-based show, with frequent trips to L.A. and NYC. He also found time to squeeze in a column for USA Today, which ended in 2001, and several best-selling books. He also appeared as himself onscreen in dozens of films, including "Ghostbusters" (1984), "Lost In America" (1985), "Dave" (1993), "Primary Colors" (1998), "Enemy of the State" (1998) and "John Q" (2002), as well as on television shows, including "Murphy Brown" (CBS, 1988-1998), "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004), "Arliss" (HBO, 1996-2002), "The Practice" (ABC, 1997-2004) and "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ). The broadcaster also lent his recognizable voice to the ugly stepsister in "Shrek 2" (2004), "Shrek the Third" (2007) and "Shrek Forever After" (2010). Meanwhile, his USA Today column re-emerged in blog form in 2008 and began appearing on Twitter a year later.

Having been married almost as many times as Elizabeth Taylor, King became notorious for his many romantic entanglements, including a marriage to former Playboy bunny Alene Akins and a companionship with actress Angie Dickinson. By the time the new millennium arrived, he was married to his seventh wife, Shawn Southwick, a former singer, television host and also a Playboy bunny. The seventh time seemingly turned out to be the charm, with Southwick having been married to King the longest. But in early 2010, both filed for divorce on the same day amidst accusations that King had an affair with Southwick's sister, Shannon Engemann. Engemann denied the affair. Meanwhile, King and Southwick both withdrew their divorce filings a month later, after Southwick attempted suicide by overdosing on prescription pills following a long battle with depression. Then in June 2010, King announced that he was stepping down as host of "Larry King Live" and later confirmed that British broadcaster Piers Morgan would replace him January 2011. King was set to make his last broadcast on Dec. 16, 2010, though he was to remain at CNN to host specials.

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