Legendary broadcaster Larry King, who conducted more than 50,000 interviews over 60 years, died Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after being hospitalized for COVID-19. He was 87.
Born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger on November 19, 1933, to two Orthodox Jewish immigrants, King had a rags-to-riches story that led from his impoverished upbringing in Brooklyn, New York, to interviewing some of the most famous and important figures in the world.
King’s father, Edward Zeiger, who immigrated from Ukraine, died of a heart attack at 43 when King was 10, which had a profound effect on him. His mother, Jennie (Gitlitz) Zeiger, who came from Lithuania, was left to raise King and his younger brother Marty alone and had to go on welfare.
“Prior to his death, I’d been a good student but afterwards, I just stopped being interested,” King said in a 2015 interview with The Guardian. “It was a real blow to me. But eventually I channeled that anger because I wanted to make him and my mother proud.” His grades were not good enough to attend college, and he did odd jobs to assist his family, such as being a milk man and a UPS truck driver.
King, who always wanted to be a broadcaster, traveled to Miami when he was 22 on the advice of someone who advised him that he would have a better chance of breaking into the industry there than in New York. After taking a janitorial job at WAHR on the condition that he would eventually be allowed to go on the air, King was given his big break when a disc jockey quit.
Shortly before he went on the air for the first time on May 1, 1957, his boss told him to pick a name that sounded less ethnic. Looking to a nearby newspaper advertisement for King Wholesale Liquor, Larry Zeiger became Larry King. For the first five minutes of his first broadcast, he was too nervous to speak.
Finally he summoned the courage to say, “Hi, my name is Larry King. All my life I wanted to be on the radio. Well, here I am and I’m frightened.”
King eventually got the hang of radio and would go on to become one of the most successful interviewers of his time, interviewing every president since Richard Nixon. He is best known for hosting “Larry King Live” on CNN for a quarter century, from 1985 to 2010. King also became a frequent subject of the tabloids for his eight marriages to seven women.
King also co-founded Ora Media, which aired his show “Larry King Now.”
Ora Media said in a statement released Saturday:
With profound sadness, Ora Media announces the death of our co-founder, host, and friend Larry King, who passed away this morning at age 87 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
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. 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. Whether he was interviewing a U.S. president, foreign leader, celebrity, scandal-ridden personage, or an everyman, Larry liked to ask short, direct, and uncomplicated questions. He believed concise questions usually provided the best answers, and he was not wrong in that belief.
Larry’s interviews from his 25-year run on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” and his Ora Media programs “Larry King Now,” and “Politicking with Larry King” are consistently referenced by media outlets around the world and remain part of the historical record of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Ora Media sends our condolences to his surviving children Larry, Jr., Chance, Cannon and the entire King family.
Funeral arrangements and a memorial service will be announced later in coordination with the King family, who ask for their privacy at this time.