Larry King, who passed away Saturday morning at 87, was a late-blooming, hard-grinding TV icon when I interviewed him in the ’90s and early 2000’s.

CNN’s biggest star, especially in the early days, started in radio, honing his craft doing thousands of interviews before moving to television. During a 25 year span on CNN, his Larry King Live forum was TV’s pop-culture career maker as well as a high profile confessional booth. King made even Kato Kaelin a household name during the whole, sensational O.J. Simpson White Bronco saga and “Trial of the Century” in the early ’90s.

King might have Suzanne Somers on to talk about her Thighmaster one night, the Dalai Lama the next. Every president from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama sat across from the suspendered host, who would throw his show open to callers from across North America whenever things got dull.

“Go ahead, Seattle,” King would thunder. King was a wiley broadcaster who hooked viewers by owning the story of the day and at the same time giving his audience direct access to the storymakers.

One time when I spoke with him, while I was working at The Toronto Sun, we talked about his bad ticker. King survived quadruple bypass surgery in 1987 — at a time when his career was really taking off. He joked about being married eight times, twice to the same woman. He had two boys with his seventh wife and they were toddlers when King was in his sixties. He told me his one regret was that he’d never see them go off to college.

“Why, aren’t they smart?” I blurted.

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King allowed it and didn’t hang up. “No — because I’ll never live that long!” he replied.

He beat his own forecast. Those boys are now in their early twenties. One of them, Chance, made the annoucement of his dad’s passing. The TV legend had been hospitalized and his end was apparently hastened by COVID-19.

One King side gig which always made me smile was his USA Today column. It took longer to read than to write. He seemed to type what ever came into his head, separated by ellispsis.

If King had written his own obit, it might have gone like this: “Like Bob Hope once told me, ‘Death is easy; comedy is hard.’…With Nate ‘n Als Beverly Hills grill gone, there was no reason to carry on anyway…At least I lived long enough to see the Dodgers win another World Series…this place reminds me of Trumps’ palacial lair at Mar-a-Lago…”

I was also fascinated by King’s frank statements that he never did research before an interview. Imagine heading into a 40 minute TV conversation with The Dalai Lama, or Prince, before at least checking Wikipedia.

King’s reply was that curiosity was the No. 1 skill set every interviewer must have. He also frequently told reporters that, “I never once learned anything by talking.” King was a good listener, and it was a quality that indeed make him tops in his field. He liked to come away from an interview learning something new, and felt that he owed his audience the same experience.

Sometimes, however, King could have done a little research. When the Beatles Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil show “Love” opened in Vegas over a dozen years ago, King sat with surviving band members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. At one point, the death of John Lennon came up. King spoke first with McCartney, then turned to Ringo and said, “George, where were you {when you heard the news]?”

“George!” said a stunned McCartney. “No, this is Ringo here… he got your name wrong Ringo, on national television!”

Still, King was generally ahead of the curve. His chatty and personal celebrity interviews in some ways opened the doors to the reality TV explosion that spawned the Kardashians, Paris Hilton and others in the early days of this century.

I was asked by John Northcott on CBC Saturday morning if I could think of anyone who might be the next Larry King. The time is ripe for somebody to help CNN pivot away from Trump and fractured politics. King was so old school and unique, almost a throwback to national radio sensations such as Walter Winchell, that it’s hard to see anybody snapping into his suspenders.

One intriguing suggestion made here on the homefront by co-critic, Sandra: John King. “King 2.0,” she suggests. Makes sense the more I think about it. He’s played such a different role so far at CNN as their key political specialist, but this is a compelling guy, nimble on his feet who is also all about the answers. “One senses he has a powerful second act coming,” she said.

Were he still with us, you can bet Larry King would have booked The Donald and Melania by now. Condolences to the children he was so proud of, and to all his family, friends and fans.

UPDATE: Follow this link to my conversation with Global News Radio host and fellow Larry King fan Jeff McArthur; you’ll find it in the final third of the audio clip.

 

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