Maybe the reason Larry King talked with so many people is simply because so many people wanted to talk to him.
Nearly 60,000 interviews over his 60-year career – think about that. He was practically on the air more than he was off it.
And yet, his name was a bit of a misnomer; Larry King never considered himself royalty at all.
“No baloney,” he told “60 Minutes.” “I’m a guy who asks questions, I’m a guy who asks questions, that’s all. I’m a guy who’s curious.”
He started in radio in the late ’50s. in 2006 he told “Sunday Morning” host Charles Osgood broadcasting cast its spell early, when he was a boy growing up as Larry Zeiger in Brooklyn.
“I’d listen to the radio in my room, and run into the bathroom and imitate: ‘And now, a tale well-calculated to keep you in … ‘Suspense!’”
But it was cable TV where he made conversation an art form – and suspenders a fashion statement.
He asked the questions others wished they’d thought of, but didn’t:
King: “Is it hard to drive by the Watergate?”
President Richard Nixon: “Well, I’ve never been in the Watergate. Other people were in there, unfortunately.”
King: “Is that for you frustrating, to not remembering something?”
President Ronald Reagan: “Yes, it’s very frustrating.”
He could chat it up with anyone, from presidents to pop stars.
King: “Pot is still part of your life?”
Snoop Dogg: “I mean, seven days a week, it’s my medical marijuana, it’s my get up and get going, my wake and bake, my breakfast of champions!”
King: “Ha! Wheaties!”
Even serial murderers and dictators got the same Larry King everyone did.
King: “What was it like to kill someone?”
Correspondent Lee Cowan said to Tammy Haddad (who was the founding executive producer of “Larry King Live”), “He had to be the hardest-working person in broadcasting, without a doubt.”
“I don’t think there was one day that he felt like it was work,” Haddad replied.
“He often got criticized for asking softball questions, but sometimes the softballs ended up being the hardest questions to answer?”
“What Larry did is he made people feel so comfortable, that they would end up going beyond their talking points,” Haddad said.
King: “What happened with the submarine?”
Russian President Vladimir Putin: “It sunk.”
“His talent was more listening than asking questions,” said Cowan.
“Definitely,” Haddad replied. “And when that light came on, his eyes lit up, and he would laugh (you know that clucking laugh of his). He rubbed his eyes at a joke, and it was just magical.”
King could rival any red carpet with his parade of celebrity interviews, and yet he was only really nervous about one: Frank Sinatra.
His interview with Marlon Brando grabbed headlines, not just because Brando hardly talked to anyone, and not because the two of them sang together, but for how they ended the interview – with a kiss.
“He just went right in for it,” laughed Haddad, “and then he was very proud of it. I kissed Marlon Brando!”
The list of those mourning his passing on social media is as long as his career, among them Oprah, Bill Clinton, even the L.A. Dodgers.
An avid baseball fan, King loved the Dodgers almost as much as he loved getting married; eight times, usually to younger women, as the Dali Lamia himself once observed.
The Dalai Lama: “Looks much younger.”
King: “She is much younger, yeah.”
The Dalai Lama: “Looks like your daughter! Sorry, sorry, sorry!”
Heart troubles and other ailments dogged King for years. He told Mike Wallace of “60 Minutes” that the fear of possibly losing those health battles was what kept him up at night.
King: “The only thing I worry about is dying.”
Wallace: “Dying? What are you worried about? You’re a boy?”
King: ” This universe has been around a long time, it’s going to be around for a long time, and I’m here for a blip of it, and I want to see it all.”
Even after signing off CNN in 2010, he moved his conversations to the internet to make sure he didn’t miss a beat. He kept asking questions – always looking for the next great guest.
King jokingly wrote in his memoir back in 2009 that there was really only one interview he never got: God.
“You know, there’s only one question he’d ask: ‘Why?'” said Haddad. “That’s for sure.”
“So, God’s in for it this weekend?” said Cowan.
“Yeah, God’s in for it this weekend!”
Let’s hope he’ll roll up his sleeves, hunch over that microphone, and take a caller or two.
Imagine the ratings for that!
Story produced by Jay Kernis. Editor: Remington Korper.