Larry King, Legendary Interviewer and TV Host, Dead at 87
By Latifah Muhammad
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Larry King, the veteran TV and radio host known for his signature suspenders and legendary interviews, has died. He was 87.
King's company, Ora Media, shared the news on social media, writing that the iconic broadcaster died early Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. A cause of death was not given, though King was hospitalized with COVID-19 earlier this month.
"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," the statement read, in part. "Additionally, while it was his name appearing in the shows' titles, 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."
"Funeral arrangement and a memorial service will be announced later in coordination with the King family, who ask for their privacy at this time."
King's death comes after years of health struggles including a more than 30-year battle with heart disease.In 1987, King underwent quadruple bypass surgery after suffering a heart attack.In 2017, King was diagnosed with lung cancer and “underwent a successful surgery to remove the upper Lobe and Lymph Node," his rep later confirmed. The hardworking host returned to work just two weeks later.
In April 2019, King had a angioplasty procedure and stints added to his heart. Later that year, he revealed that he suffered a stroke after the heart procedure and was in a coma for a couple of weeks. As explained in his 2004 book Taking on Heart Disease, the initial heart attack was triggered by his unhealthy lifestyle.
"In early 1987 I was smoking three packs of Nat Sherman cigarettes a day, eating fried this-and-that, enjoying lamb chops with lots of fat because that always improves the taste, ordering banana cream or lemon meringue pie for dessert -- and feeling absolutely fine," he recalled. "But when I look back at the events leading up to that day when you-know-what happened, I remember people giving me 'the look.' It was always followed by something like 'Larry, you oughta' (fill in the blank: stop smoking/eat more fish/get some exercise),' and I always responded with a completely phony appreciative nod and continued doing what I was doing. I guess that line about 'everything you need to see is always right in front of you but you gotta' open your eyes to see it' really does hold true."
The Peabody Award winner and Radio Hall of Famer, hosted Larry King Live on CNN for 15 years, and conducted tens of thousands of interviews throughout his career. The Larry King Live set simulated that of a televised radio interview, a seeming nod to King’s broadcasting roots.
King began his radio career in South Florida the late 1950s. His first job was at a small Miami Beach radio station where he completed miscellaneous tasks, including cleaning the radio station. He was later hired as an on-air personality making $50 a week. His birth name (Lawrence Harvey Ziegler) was considered too “ethnic” for radio, prompting him to legally change his name to Larry King.
The son of Orthodox Jewish immigrant parents, King was born in Brooklyn in 1933. King’s father was a restaurant owner and his mother was a garment worker. The family were forced to go on welfare after King’s father died from a heart attack at age 44. King however worked to support his mother and brother after he graduated high school. Around that time, King wed his high school sweetheart, Freda Miller, although the marriage didn't last very long. King and Miller’s parents found out about the nuptials and made the young lover birds get an annulment.
In the early ‘60s, King landed a job with WIOD radio station in Miami and set up shop inside of a nearby restaurant where he scored his first celebrity interview with singer Bobby Darin. King parlayed the gig into the local weekly talk show, Miami Undercover. He also worked as a commentator for the Miami Dolphins, and hosted a local sports commentary show, before premiering The Larry King Show in 1978. King hosted the national weekly radio show until 1994.
Larry King Live made its debut on CNN in 1985, and became one of the network’s longest-running and most popular program. The nightly talk show also turned King into a ubiquitous figure in his own right, and a sought after actor. He made cameos in a number of films and TV shows including Ghostbusters, Bee Movie, Shrek, Murphy Brown, The Simpsons, and American Crime Story.
In 2010, CNN replaced Larry King Live with Piers Morgan Live, although the talk show only lasted four seasons.Meanwhile, King launched Ora TV in 2012, and debuted a new talk show, Larry King Now, which was picked up by Hulu. King continued hosting Larry King Now prior to his death. The veteran broadcaster was married eight times to seven different women. After his divorce from Miller, King briefly married Annette Kaye, who gave birth to their son, Larry King Jr., in 1961. (King didn’t meet his son in person until the child was an adult.) That year, King wed former Playboy playmate, Alene Akins. He adopted Akins' son, but the couple split in 1963 and King wed Mary Francis "Mickey" Stuphin. After King and Stuphin divorced in 1967, he married Kaye for a second time. The pair welcome a daughter, Chaiai, during their marriage but divorced again in 1972. Four years later, King married Sharon Lepore. The marriage last until 1983. In 1989, he met and married, Julie Alexander, whom he proposed to on their first date. They wed two months later, but divorced in 1992.
King married his seventh wife, Shawn Southwick, in 1997. The couple have two sons together, Chance and Cannon. Southwick filed for divorce in 2010, although the pair reconciled and remained married for another decade. King, 86, filed for divorce from Southwick, 60, in the fall of 2019.
In the summer of 2020, the father of five tragically lost two of his children within weeks of each other. King's daughter Chaiai, died from lung cancer, and his son, Andy, suffered a fatal heart attack.
"Losing them feels so out of order," King said in an emotional statement. "No parent should have to bury a child. My family and I thank you for your outpouring of kind sentiments and well wishes. In this moment, we need a little time and privacy to heal. I thank you for respecting that."
King is survived by his three living children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.