Yes, it really was – the large-sized shirt, the even bigger suspenders, the angular granny glasses: Larry King, as he is and alive, was that, but was he at all viable outside of television? On the train between New York and Boston he stood in the corridor like an apparition among the business travelers, dismissive and shy at the same time, released in some magical way from the box that would catch him again in the evening so that he could meet with a quarterback or a famous actress could hold public dialogue.
For 25 years, from 1985 to 2010, he appeared every evening on CNN, owlishly unsexy, emotionless and yet obsessed with the ambition to see everyone, really everyone, to himself Larry King Live pick up. Allegedly in his life he has conducted more than fifty thousand interviews with high and low, with all the stars from Mick Jagger to Lady Gaga, with all US presidents since Richard Nixon. Yasser Arafat, Nelson Mandela or Mahmud Ahmadinejad could be admired like strange animals; Vladimir Putin even came twice.
Hardly had he married the third time, Donald Trump and his wife Melania appeared at his friend King’s to let the good news spread out into the wider world. Trump was allowed to test his baroque art of exaggeration in 1990. Everything was fine in his loss-making Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, Trump lied cheekily, and the slot machines even ran hot from the rush. “Some machines literally burned. The world has never seen anything like that.”
Oprah Winfrey’s male equivalent
On another occasion he praised King: “Probably no one has done as much live television as you,” which for once was not a lie. The broadcaster CNN was otherwise striving to be extremely sobre, bringing civil war and crisis from all over the world, stock market prices, company bankruptcies, the daily disaster news. Larry King, however, brought this desolate program to life, feelings, the so-called human. He was particularly fond of family guests who, after a terrible misfortune, could not only hope for his sympathy but also publicly mourn a father or daughter in his home. So in his unsentimental way he became the male equivalent of Oprah Winfrey. Her potentiated power was revealed when she came on King’s show in 2006, speaking out for Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate; According to experts, she has secured him the presidency.
Larry King once again embodied the American dream, which otherwise only exists as an assertion. He was born in Brooklyn in 1933 as Lawrence Zeiger, the child of Orthodox Jews who had just immigrated from Eastern Europe. He wasn’t particularly interested in school, but like Woody Allen, who was almost the same age, the radio fascinated him. He went to Florida and hung around in Miami at the small station, TRUE, until they hired him to clean up. When a disc jockey suddenly resigned, King stepped in for him. That was in 1957, he was 23, and from then on he was on the air until almost his last breath.
Hard questions were not to be expected from him
With his permanent presence first on the radio and then on television, King became better known as Johnny Carson or Walter Cronkite. That had a lot to do with his idiosyncratic understanding of the craft: he hardly prepared for his guests because he, always the audience’s advocate, wanted to start at the stand of his audience and be entertained as they were. Still, it was embarrassing when his ostentatious nonchalance hid simple ignorance, when he thought the Dalai Lama was a Muslim, or when he mistook Ringo Starr for George Harrison. (Back then everyone had this long hair!)
The stars came willingly, hard questions were not to be expected, but the eager praise for the new film, the new book, the new program. Like a hostel father, Larry King took everyone in on his show, hugging the troubled and burdened as well as the plastic surgery patients, the divorced and the victims. Nobody had to expect contradictions, Larry King offered everyone a forum.
German politicians can only dream of such conditions. Sometimes the most absurd scenes occurred. No sooner was OJ Simpson acquitted of the accusation of killing his wife and her boyfriend than he called King’s Show and was allowed to tell how nice it was to be with his children again. His lawyer sat across from the moderator in the studio and was visibly shaking with fear that his client might still say something that would confirm his doubts about his innocence.
When, after almost 19 years on death row and four postponements, the convicted murderer Shaka Sankofa was to receive the fatal injection, Larry King said goodbye to his viewers with an urgent plea to the commercial break: “The execution is still on this show – stay tuned!”
The December 2010 Larry King Live farewell show featured Bill Clinton and Barack Obama
Rarely did King come across someone who didn’t go along with the banter. When he asked Jerry Seinfeld whether his show might have been turned off, he replied, visibly indignant: “Do you even know who I am?” and referred to the 75 million viewers that “Seinfeld” had when they left. That didn’t go down well, it seemed arrogant to the fans. King confidently directed the film, which Seinfeld had come into the studio to promote.
In the last issue of Larry King Live In December 2010, not only TV colleagues Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer appeared, but also Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as surprise guests. King’s audience numbers had already dropped sharply, but this last show was watched by more than two million people. Although he was already 76 by then, King had been reluctant to give way to his successor, Piers Morgan. Schadenfreude was no stranger to him when he had to give up after only three years.
King supposedly wanted to devote himself more to his family afterwards, possibly even reading books, but he suffered from severe withdrawal symptoms and stayed in business with his Ora TV, most recently under the umbrella of Hulu and Russia Today, doing advertising, commenting on Dodgers games and tweeted uninhibitedly, even if he had to dictate his tweets to his wife, Shawn Southwick, who was 26 years his junior, so that she would type it into an iPhone.
Larry King had survived heart operations, declared bankruptcy, got rich again, and had eight marriages with seven women.
For an avowed agnostic, Larry King showed a strange fascination for everything supernatural. He was happy to invite parapsychologists and other officially recognized weirdos. For many years he was concerned with cryonics, the possibility of freezing himself after the death against payment in advance and having it kept for a technologically and medically further developed future. In his case, this is no longer necessary: it is already a national shrine. Aware of his not only American audience, he will survive as the good uncle who made everyone chat. On January 23, the whispering grandmaster died at the age of 87 in Los Angeles after suffering from Covid.