He began as a local Florida journalist and radio interviewer in the 1950s and 1960s and became prominent as an all-night national radio broadcaster starting in 1978. From 1985 to 2010, he hosted the nightly interview television program Larry King Live on CNN. He currently hosts Larry King Now on Hulu and RT America during the week, and on Thursdays he hosts Politicking with Larry King, a weekly political talk show which airs in the evening on the same two channels.
Early life and education
King was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Jennie (Gitlitz), a garment worker who was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, and Aaron Zeiger, a restaurant owner and defense-plant worker who was born in Kolomyia, Ukraine. His parents were Orthodox Jews.
King was educated at Lafayette High School, a public high school in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. His father died at 44 of a heart attack and his mother had to go on welfare to support her two sons. King was greatly affected by his father's death, and he lost interest in school. After graduating from high school, he worked to help support his mother and did not go to college. From an early age, however, he had wanted to go into radio.
Miami radio and television
A CBS staff announcer, whom King met by chance, suggested he go to Florida which was a growing media market with openings for inexperienced broadcasters. King went to Miami, and after initial setbacks, he got his first job in radio. The manager of a small station, WAHR (now WMBM) in Miami Beach, hired him to clean up and perform miscellaneous tasks. When one of their announcers quit, they put King on the air. His first broadcast was on May 1, 1957, when he worked as the disc jockey from 9 a.m. to noon. He also did two afternoon newscasts and a sportscast. He was paid $55 a week.
He acquired the name Larry King when the general manager Marshall Simmonds said that Zeiger was too ethnic and difficult to remember, so Larry chose the surname King, which he got from an ad in the Miami Herald for King's Wholesale Liquor, minutes before air. Within two years, he legally changed his name.
He started doing interviews on a mid-morning show for WIOD, at Pumpernik's Restaurant in Miami Beach. He would interview anyone who walked in. His first interview was with a waiter at the restaurant. Two days later, singer Bobby Darin, in Miami for a concert later that day, walked into Pumpernik's having come across King's radio show; Darin became King's first celebrity interview guest.
His Miami radio show launched him to local stardom. A few years later, in May 1960, he hosted Miami Undercover, airing Sunday nights at 11:30 p.m. on WPST-TV Channel 10 (now WPLG). On the show, he moderated debates on important issues of the time.
King credits his success on local television to the assistance of comedian Jackie Gleason, whose national television variety show was being filmed in Miami Beach during this period. "That show really took off because Gleason came to Miami," King said in a 1996 interview he gave when inducted into the Broadcasters' Hall of Fame. "He did that show and stayed all night with me. We stayed till five in the morning. He didn't like the set, so we broke into the general manager's office and changed the set. Gleason changed the set, he changed the lighting, and he became like a mentor of mine."
During this period, WIOD gave King further exposure as a color commentator for the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League, during their 1970 season and most of their 1971 season. However, he was dismissed by both WIOD and television station WTVJ as a late-night radio host and sports commentator as of December 20, 1971, when he was arrested after being accused of grand larceny by a former business partner. Other staffers covered the Dolphins' games into their 24–3 loss to Dallas in Super Bowl VI. King also lost his weekly column at the Miami Beach Sun newspaper. The charges were dropped. Eventually, King was rehired by WIOD in Miami. For several years during the 1970s in South Florida, he hosted a sports talk-show called "Sports-a-la-King" that featured guests and callers.
On January 30, 1978, King went national on a nightly Mutual Broadcasting System coast-to-coast broadcast, inheriting the talk show slot that had been "Long John" Nebel's until his death, and had been pioneered by Herb Jepko. King's Mutual show rapidly developed a devoted audience.
It was broadcast live Monday through Friday from midnight to 5:30 a.m. Eastern Time. King would interview a guest for the first 90 minutes, with callers asking questions that continued the interview for another 90 minutes. At 3 a.m., he would allow callers to discuss any topic they pleased with him, until the end of the program, when he expressed his own political opinions. That segment was called Open Phone America. Many stations in the western time zones would carry Open Phone America live, followed by the guest interview on tape delay.
Some of King's regular callers used the pseudonyms "The Numbers Guy", "The Chair", "The Portland Laugher," "The Miami Derelict," and "The Scandal Scooper". The show was successful, starting with relatively few affiliates and eventually growing to more than 500. It ran until 1994. King would occasionally entertain the audience by telling amusing stories from his childhood.
For its final year, the show was moved to afternoons. The afternoon show was eventually given to David Brenner and radio affiliates were given the option of carrying the audio of King's new CNN evening television program. The Westwood One radio simulcast of the CNN show continued until December 31, 2009.
He started his Larry King Live CNN show in June 1985, hosting a broad range of guests from controversial figures of UFO conspiracy theories and alleged psychics, to prominent politicians and leading figures in the entertainment industry, often doing their first or only interview on breaking news stories on his show. After doing his CNN show from 9 to 10 p.m., King would then travel to his Mutual Radio office to do his radio show, when both shows still aired.
Unlike many interviewers, King has a direct, non-confrontational approach. His reputation for asking easy, open-ended questions has made him attractive to important figures who want to state their position while avoiding being challenged on contentious topics. King has said that when interviewing authors, he does not read their books in advance, so that he will not know more than his audience.
Throughout his career King has interviewed many of the leading figures of his time. According to CNN, King has performed more than 30,000 interviews in his career.
King also wrote a regular newspaper column in USA Today for almost 20 years, from shortly after that newspaper's origin in 1982 until September 2001. The column consisted of short "plugs, superlatives and dropped names" but was dropped when the newspaper redesigned its "Life" section. The column was resurrected in blog form in November 2008 and on Twitter in April 2009.
On June 29, 2010, King announced that after 25 years, he would be stepping down from his nightly job hosting Larry King Live. However, he stated that he would remain with CNN to host occasional specials. The announcement came in the wake of speculation that CNN had approached Piers Morgan, the British television personality and journalist, as King's primetime replacement, which was confirmed that September.
The final edition of Larry King Live aired on December 16, 2010. The show concluded with his last thoughts and a thank you to his audience for watching and supporting him over the years. The concluding words of Larry King on the show were, "I... I, I don't know what to say except to you, my audience, thank you. And instead of goodbye, how about so long."
On February 17, 2012, CNN announced that he would no longer host specials.
In March 2012, King co-founded Ora TV, a production company, with Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim; the company signed a multi-year exclusive deal with Hulu to exclusively carry King's new talk-oriented web series, Larry King Now, beginning July 17.
On January 16, 2013, Ora TV celebrated their 100th episode of Larry King Now.
In May 2013 RT America announced that King would be anchoring a new talk show on its network. King said in an advertisement on RT: "I would rather ask questions to people in positions of power, instead of speaking on their behalf." He also brought his Hulu show Larry King Now to RT.
For his part, King stated in early March 2014, during the 2014 Crimean crisis, "I don't work for RT. My podcasts, Larry King Now and Politicking, are licensed for a fee to RT America by New York-based Ora TV."
The Russian alignment of RT was widely noted in coverage of an interview King did with Republican Party Presidential candidate Donald Trump on September 8, 2016, in which Trump extended his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also criticized America’s media, lashing out against what he called "the dishonesty of the media". Later on, President Obama strongly criticized Trump for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin and for appearing on a TV channel funded by the Russian government.
In September 2017, King stated that he had no intention of ever retiring and expects to host his programs until he dies.
Larry King remains active as a writer and television personality. King was the moderator of the sixth Kazenergy Eurasian Forum in Astana, Kazakhstan, an annual forum for Kazakhstan's energy sector occurring in October 2011.
King guest starred in episodes of 30 Rock and Gravity Falls, had cameos in Ghostbusters and Bee Movie, and voiced Doris the Ugly Stepsister in Shrek 2 and its sequels. He also played himself in The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story.
King hosted the educational television series In View with Larry King from 2013 to 2015, which was carried on cable television networks including Fox Business Network and Discovery and produced by The Profiles Series production company.
King made an appearance alongside his wife, Shawn King, on October 8 edition of WWE Monday Night Raw and participated in a segment with The Miz and Kofi Kingston. He had served as Raw's Social Media Ambassador the previous week.
King has become a very active user on the social-networking site Twitter, where he posts thoughts and comments on a wide variety of subjects. King states, "I love tweeting, I think it's a different world we've entered. When people were calling in, they were calling in to the show and now on Twitter I'm giving out thoughts, opinions. The whole concept has changed."
Since 2011, he has also made various TV infomercials, often appearing as a "host" discussing products like Omega-3 fatty acid dietary supplements with guests, in an interview style reminiscent of his past TV programs.
On September 10, 1990, while on The Joan Rivers Show, Rivers asked King which contestant in the Miss America pageant was "the ugliest." King responded, "Miss Pennsylvania. She was one of the 10 finalists and she did a great ventriloquist bit ... The dummy was prettier." King was a judge for the September 8, 1990, pageant. King later sent Miss Pennsylvania, Marla Wynne, a dozen long-stemmed roses and a telegram apologizing for saying she was the ugliest contestant in the pageant that year.
In 1997, King was one of 34 celebrities to sign an open letter to then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, published as a newspaper advertisement in the International Herald Tribune, which protested the treatment of Scientologists in Germany, comparing it to the Nazis' oppression of Jews in the 1930s. Other signatories included Dustin Hoffman and Goldie Hawn.
King has been married eight times, to seven women. He married high-school sweetheart Freda Miller in 1952 at age 19. That union ended the following year at the behest of their parents, who reportedly had the youngsters' marriage annulled. King was later briefly married to Annette Kaye who gave birth to his son, Larry Jr., in November 1961. King did not meet Larry Jr. until the son was in his thirties. Larry Jr. and his wife, Shannon, have three children.
In 1961, King married his third wife, Alene Akins, a Playboy Bunny at one of the magazine's eponymous nightclubs. King adopted Alene's son Andy in 1962, and divorced the following year. In 1963, King married his fourth wife, Mary Francis "Mickey" Stuphin, who divorced King. He remarried Akins, with whom he had a second child, Chaia, in 1969. The couple divorced a second time in 1972. In 1997, Dove Books published a book written by King and Chaia, Daddy Day, Daughter Day. Aimed at young children, it tells each of their accounts of his divorce from Akins.
On September 25, 1976, King married his fifth wife, mathematics teacher and production assistant Sharon Lepore. The couple divorced in 1983.
King met businesswoman Julie Alexander in 1989, and proposed to her on the couple's first date on August 1, 1989. Alexander became King's sixth wife on October 7, 1989, when the two were married in Washington, D.C. The couple lived in different cities, however, with Alexander in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and King in Washington, D.C., where he worked. They separated in 1990 and divorced in 1992. He became engaged to actress Deanna Lund in 1995, after five weeks of dating, but they remained unmarried.
In 1997, he married his seventh wife, Shawn Southwick, born in 1959 as Shawn Ora Engemann, a singer, actress, and TV host, in King's Los Angeles, California, hospital room three days before King underwent heart surgery to clear a clogged blood vessel. The couple have two children: Chance, born March 1999, and Cannon, born May 2000. He is stepfather to Arena Football League quarterback Danny Southwick. On King and Southwick's 10th anniversary in September 2007, Southwick joked she was "the only [wife] to have lasted into the two digits". On April 14, 2010, both Larry and Shawn King filed for divorce, but have since reconciled.
On February 24, 1987, King suffered a major heart attack and then had quintuple-bypass surgery. Since then, King has written two books about living with heart disease. Mr. King, You're Having a Heart Attack: How a Heart Attack and Bypass Surgery Changed My Life (1989, ISBN 0-440-50039-7) was written with New York's Newsday science editor B. D. Colen. Taking On Heart Disease: Famous Personalities Recall How They Triumphed over the Nation's #1 Killer and How You Can, Too (2004, ISBN 1-57954-820-2) features the experience of various celebrities with cardiovascular disease including Peggy Fleming and Regis Philbin.
King related his heart attack experience in a film interview in the 2015 British documentary film The Widowmaker which discusses cardiology diagnostic tests.
King has received annual chest X-rays to monitor his heart condition. During his 2017 examination, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor in his lung. It was successfully removed with surgery.
Awards and nominations
King has received many broadcasting awards. He won the Peabody Award for Excellence in broadcasting for both his radio (1982) and television (1992) shows. He has also won 10 CableACE awards for Best Interviewer and for Best Talk Show Series.
In 1989, King was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame, and in 1996 to the Broadcasters' Hall of Fame. In 2002, the industry publication Talkers Magazine named King both the fourth-greatest radio talk show host of all time and the top television talk show host of all time.
In 1994, King received the Scopus Award from the American Friends of Hebrew University. In June 1998, he received an honorary degree from Brooklyn College, City University of New York, for his life achievements.
He was given the Golden Mike Award for Lifetime Achievement in January 2009, by the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California.
King is an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Beverly Hills. He is also a recipient of the President's Award honoring his impact on media from the Los Angeles Press Club in 2006.
King was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by Bradley University; for which he said "is really a hoot." King has received numerous honorary degrees from institutions as George Washington University, the Columbia School of Medicine, among others.
In 2003, King was named as recipient of the Snuffed Candle Award by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry's Council for Media Integrity. King received this award for '"encouraging credulity (and) presenting pseudoscience as genuine'".
In July 2009, King appeared on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, where he told host O'Brien about his wishes to be cryonically preserved upon death, as he had revealed in his book My Remarkable Journey. In December 2011, preceding a CNN Special on the topic, the Kings had a special dinner with friends Conan O'Brien, Tyra Banks, Shaquille O'Neal, Seth MacFarlane, Jack Dorsey, Quincy Jones, and Russell Brand where his intent to do so was reiterated, among other topics that were discussed.
King has stated that his interest in cryonics is partly due to not believing in an afterlife or a higher power. King says that he's an atheist, and that he doubts religious claims, in part because of human suffering from natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
When asked what he'd like his legacy to be, King, referring to himself, said, "His life led to more people having information that they didn't have before, and he taught us a lot and we learned a lot and enjoyed it at the same time. He brought a great deal of pride to his business."