American television and radio host Larry King attends AJHS Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty Award Dinner at The Roosevelt Hotel, Manhattan – New York, NY, USA – December 1, 2016 (Shutterstock)
By Ethan Sacks and Dennis Romero, NBC News
Larry King, the radio and television personality whose breezy and conversational interviews with celebrities and world leaders made him a broadcasting icon for nearly half a century, has died, his TV production company Ora Media said in a statement Saturday.
The statement said he had been receiving treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
It did not specify the cause of death, but King was recently hospitalized with Covid-19 and had endured health problems for many years, including a near-fatal stroke in 2019 and diabetes.
“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,” the statement added.
— Larry King (@kingsthings) January 23, 2021
Paying tribute to King in a statement, CNN President Jeff Zucker said the “scrappy young man from Brooklyn had a history-making career” due to “his generosity of spirit that drew the world to him.”
CNN founder Ted Turner said in a tweet that the “world has lost a true broadcasting legend.”
“If anyone asked me what are my greatest career achievements in life, one is the creation of CNN, and the other is hiring Larry King,” he said in a statement, adding that waking up to the news of his passing “felt like a punch to the gut.”
The world has lost a true broadcasting legend. pic.twitter.com/3eNc4hSimt
— Ted Turner (@TedTurnerIII) January 23, 2021
Over a nearly 60-year career that spanned radio, cable television and the internet, the Brooklyn, New York, native estimated that he conducted more than 50,000 interviews — not one of which he prepared for in advance.
But that off-the-cuff style, along with his raspy baritone delivery and trademark suspenders, made “Larry King Live” a popular prime-time draw on CNN from 1985 through 2010.
It was a run that helped build the cable news network into a major presence in American living rooms.
“I’m not confrontational, I’m not there to hammer the guests. … I ask good questions, I listen to the answers, I follow up,” King told The Young Turks in a 2014 interview. “I would have been uncomfortable pointing my finger at the president of the United States.”
However, King would say in 2019 that after being personally familiar with then-President Donald Trump for years, “This Donald is not the Donald I knew.”
Even though he wouldn’t meticulously prepare for interviews like the famed television journalist Barbara Walters, the rich and famous clearly were comfortable answering his questions. The actor Marlon Brando, a legendary recluse, gave a rare interview to King in 1994 because he said the host was “unexploitative.”
“There was a sense that his interviews were like conversations that could be had over a plate of meatloaf,” Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, told NBC News.
That type of approach occasionally became a recipe for disaster — such as the 2007 interview with Jerry Seinfeld, who took King to task for not knowing that he, not the network, ended his famous sitcom, “Seinfeld,” after a highly rated nine-year run.
“I thought it was pretty well documented,” Seinfeld answered. “Isn’t this CNN?”
King later admitted he should have known that a show that boasted a viewership of around 75 million for its finale wouldn’t have been canceled.
It wasn’t all fluff, though: On Nov. 9, 1993, King used his show to host a debate between Vice President Al Gore and billionaire businessman Ross Perot on the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement that helped tip public support for the treaty.