Larry King, American icon, dies

The radio and television star, host of over 50,000 interviews, passed away January 23, at age 87

William Stanziano, Editor

Larry King, broadcasting legend and host of “Larry King Live,” television’s highest-rated talk show for 25 years, died Saturday, January 23.  He died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.  The news was confirmed by Ora Media (King’s own production company which he co-founded in 2012) on King’s personal Twitter account.  His son Chance Armstrong also confirmed the news, according to CNN.   No cause of death was given, however, a spokesperson said on January 4th that King had COVID-19, received supplemental oxygen, and had left intensive care.

Larry King was born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger on November 19th, 1933, the second son of Edward and Jennie Gitlitz Zeiger.  His parents were Jewish immigrants from Austria and Belarus who ran a bar and grill in Brooklyn, New York City.  His father died of a heart attack in 1943, resulting in King’s family going on welfare until his mother could find work as a seamstress in the garment district of Manhattan.  Up until the early death of his father, Lawrence had been a great student who even skipped the third grade.  But after his tragic loss, he began to neglect his studies and became somewhat of a troubled, indigent youth, preferring to listen to the radio — Brooklyn Dodgers’ baseball games, “The Shadow,” comedians Bob and Ray, “The Lone Ranger” and his idol: Arthur Godfrey.  

After barely passing high school, Lawrence set his sights on a career in broadcasting., but was unsure how to start.  He was a deliverer and messenger for four years, until he heard a tip from a CBS staffer that Miami, FL was a good place to break into the industry.  In 1957, at the age of 23, he flew south and got a job sweeping up and running errands for a small AM radio station called WAHR.  Opportunity struck when a DJ (disc jockey) for the station suddenly quit, and Lawrence was asked to take over the 9 a.m.-to-noon broadcast.  So, on May 1, 1957, the name Lawrence Zeiger was dropped and Larry King (“King” coming from an advertisement for a liquor company) was “on air” for the first time.

King’s dramatic personal life made him a frequent subject of gossip journalism.  He was married eight times to seven different women and had five children, his first was born in 1961 and his last in 2000.  As King once said after one of his numerous divorces, “I’m not good at marriage, but I’m a great boyfriend.”  He was a chronic gambler who declared bankruptcy twice.  He borrowed recklessly and accumulated debt after debt, even failing to pay his taxes.  At some point around the early 70’s, King became involved with a highly questionable financier who was organizing a scheme to bankroll an investigation into the assasination of President John F. Kennedy.  But when, to help pay his overdue taxes, King skimmed some of the cash, his partner sued him for grand larceny in 1971.  His three-packs-a-day cigarette habit led to a heart attack in 1987, and as a result, King had to undergo a quintuple-bypass surgery, which he of course shrugged off before going right back to work.

Larry King, with his trademark suspenders, thick rimmed glasses, and humble, curious demeanor will forever be an icon of media and culture.  “Work,” he said, “It’s the easiest thing I do.”