-For decades, Larry King sat behind the microphone and invited us to join him in hearing some of the people most worth listening to in this world. At the same time, King’s life off the air was full of trials and tribulations, not to mention scandals and controversy that King kept strictly off the record. Here’s one last toast to the King of broadcasting.
Larry King Facts
1. His Name Is Completely Different
Larry King had humble beginnings—in fact, his name wasn’t even “Larry King.” Born Lawrence Zeiger in 1933 in Brooklyn, his mother and father were working class Jewish immigrants who had traveled from Belarus to give their growing family a better life. Yet despite these dreams, King’s childhood would soon turn devastating.
2. He Suffered A Childhood Tragedy
When King was only nine years old, his father suffered from a fatal heart attack, throwing the family into economic chaos and forcing them to go on welfare. Yet it got worse than that. His dad’s passing so emotionally affected the young and impressionable Larry, he lost nearly all interest in school…and started getting into big trouble.
3. He Took A Teenage Bride
Surprising or not, King’s personal life was red-hot—and boy, he started early with the bedroom drama. When he was just 19 years old, King married his high school sweetheart Freda Miller. Sure, this sounds wholesome and lovey-dovey, and maybe it was for a while. Nonetheless, the young lovers were doomed to a heartbreaking end.
4. He Had A Romeo And Juliet Story
Evidently, Larry and Freda didn’t consult anyone in their lives before running to tying the knot, and both sets of families were incensed that their babies were throwing their lives away. In 1953, just a year after they wed, the clans forced the sweethearts to annul the union. As we’ll see, this was the beginning of an unsettling pattern.
5. He Started From The Bottom
From a young age, King knew he had to support his mother, and he soon jumped right into radio broadcasting. Few people know his strange origin story. King struggled to get his foot in the door, and when a Miami radio station hired him, it was as a janitor, not an announcer. Even so, a twist of fate was around the corner.
6. He Got A Lucky Break
King’s true start in broadcasting was like something out of a movie. One day while he was cleaning up the radio station, an angry broadcaster quit on the spot and left the managers in the lurch. Desperate, they cast around for a replacement, landed on King, and threw him right into the deep end. His first radio show was on May 1, 1957. But there was just one problem…
7. His Boss Hated His Name
Very early on into his big break, King’s manager dealt him huge curveball. Minutes before he went on air, the manager told him his last name, Zeiger, was too hard for audiences to remember, and if he wanted to make it in radio he’d need to change it. Well, Larry was nothing if not industrious, so he started thinking, intending to come up with one right then. Inspiration came from an odd place.
8. He Owed His Success To A Drink
Pressed for time, the broadcaster happened to glance at an ad in the Miami Herald for “King’s Wholesale Liquor.” This chance event soon made history: King chose it as his stage name, went on air with it, and he liked it so much that two years later he officially changed his name it to the moniker. And that’s when things really took off.
9. He Worked In A Restaurant
Soon, King was working for another radio station, where his shtick was to hunt down interview subjects at the local Pumpernik’s Restaurant in Miami Beach. Usually, it was ho-hum—King’s first conversation was with a waiter—but one day, everything changed. None other than famed crooner Bobby Darin, who was in town for a show, walked in the doors. King did not miss his shot.
10. He Interviewed A Heartthrob
As it happened, Darin had heard King’s new radio show a couple of days before, and had come wanting King to interview him. King, of course, jumped on it, and Bobby Darin became his first-ever celebrity interview in a long line of them. Everything was comping up Larry—yet just as his professional life heated up, his personal life took a nosedive.
11. He Had A Quickie Wedding
In the early 1960s, King met and then rushed into marriage (again) with Annette Kaye. This time, there was scandal from the start. Perhaps giving some insight into why King ran down the aisle, Kaye gave birth to a son, Larry Jr., in November 1961. Yeah, this doesn’t sound like the healthiest relationship to begin with. And guess what? It wasn’t.
12. He Was An Absent Father
Before the year was even up, King and Kaye had divorced, and this was no conscious uncoupling. For one, King all but abandoned his newborn son, and didn’t actually meet the boy until Larry, Jr. was well into his thirties. Nope, not winning any father of the year awards here. For another, though, King had already moved on to a sizzling paramour…
13. He Married A Playboy Bunny
The very same year his son was born, King took up with the beautiful Alene Akins. Their first meeting was a very racy affair: Alene was a Playboy Bunny, and King actually met her while he was at one of the Playboy-branded nightclubs. The broadcaster obviously liked what he saw, because he then married her in 1961 and even adopted her son Andy. Oh, Larry.
Soon, King wasn’t just getting into trouble off-air, but on-air as well.
14. He Committed A Break And Enter
One of King’s most famous early interviews was with hot-shot comedian Jackie Gleason, Except King bit off more than he could chew. When the comedian decided he didn’t like King’s set, King was forced into drastic measures. They broke into the general manager’s office to conduct the interview…and things got wilder from there.
15. He Partied Hard
We might remember King as a stately broadcaster today, but the man knew how to party. After completely reconstructing the set and the lighting, he and Gleason managed to talk “all night,” only stopping at five in the morning. It paid off in a big way. King and Gleason started a firm friendship, with Gleason becoming a “mentor” to King.
As it happened, though, this would be far from King’s most scandalous interview.
16. He Took Love Tips From Elizabeth Taylor
King’s marriage to Alene Akins was as rocky as they come. Get this: After a year of marriage, they divorced, and King took up with his fourth wife, Mary Stuphin. When they divorced, King ended up right back in Akins’ arms. They married again (!) and had a child together, Chaia, in 1969. Woof. I wish I could say it doesn’t get worse, but it totally does.
17. He Got Arrested
After late-night radio success, King’s popularity had been steadily rising—and then it came crashing down. In 1971, King’s former business partner Louis Wolfson accused King of grand larceny, and Miami officers even stormed in and arrested King. The broadcaster was shocked and reeling, and the consequences were devastating.
18. He Was Blacklisted
Although Wolfson eventually dropped the charges, the damage was done. He lost his job at the radio station for a significant amount of time, not to mention his side gig as a color commentator for the Miami Dolphins. He was on such a blacklist, other people had to cover him when the Dolphins played in Super Bowl VI. But when one door closes, another door opens…
19. He Had A Hit Radio Show
This setback may have slowed Larry King down, but he was about to become a household name. In January 1978, King started The Larry King Show, with the broadcaster interviewing a guest for the first portion of the show and then taking call-ins for the next half in a segment he called “Open Phone America.” It wasn’t long before strange things began happening.
20. His Regular Callers Were Eccentric
King’s guests during this time might have been riveting, but it was his loyal callers that put his name on the map. People were so devoted that King got regular calls from the same listeners, and came up with names like “The Numbers Guy,” “The Portland Laugher,” and “The Scandal Scooper” to keep them anonymous. The show took off…and so did King.
21. He Started A Legendary Show
Eventually, King’s radio program was so popular, he began his most famous endeavor. On June, 1985, the cameras started rolling on Larry King Live, King’s television broadcast where he interviewed celebrities and important national figures. It became a comforting touch point for millions of people around the world…but that’s only half the story.
22. He Had A Special Trick
For reasons many couldn’t understand, Larry King could get some of the biggest names in show business to come on his show. But that’s because he had a secret weapon: Calm and unassuming, King was known to let his subjects speak for themselves and didn’t needle them with hostile questions, making him widely popular with the celebrity set. But that wasn’t always a good thing.
23. He Interviewed A Diva Actor
In 1994, King interviewed the notoriously difficult actor Marlon Brando. Behind the scenes, it was an utter disaster. For a long time, Brando had shunned the spotlight, but he was contractually obliged to do just one interview upon the release of his new book, Songs My Mother Taught Me. Brando chose King for his sit-down…but he had one bizarre stipulation.
24. His Conversation Went Off The Rails
Brando was a fussy, eccentric person to work with, and he insisted that if he were going to be at all cooperative on King’s show, the pair would need to have lunch beforehand to get to know each other. Evidently, though, it worked: Brando was so relaxed in the interview, he put his stinky bare feet up on the ottoman. Oh, but it got weirder.
25. He Kissed A Man Passionately
Although King’s interview with Brando was already odd enough, it’s the closing of their talk that cemented its place among King’s all-time interview moments. Brando and King apparently really took to each other, and as the interview came to an end, the two manly-men shared a comfortable, fond kiss on screen together. Yowza!
26. His Life Fell Apart
Although King’s relationship with Marlon Brando was obviously solid, the same couldn’t be said for his home life around this time. Starting in the 1970s, King had a cruel experience with love. First, he and Alene Akins divorced for good in 1972, and his next marriage, this time to math teacher Sharon Lepore, fell apart in 1983.
You’d think King was done making bad romantic decisions, but his nightmare was just beginning.
27. He Proposed On The First Date
By 1989, when King met his new love interest, businesswoman Julie Alexander, it all really started to spiral. King was so blasé about marriage that he actually proposed to Alexander on their very first date. This was also despite the fact that she lived in Philadelphia while he worked in Washington. Surprise, surprise: This union with his sixth wife lasted exactly one year.
Larry really needed a win…but he wasn’t going to get it.
28. A Family Curse Haunted Him
Around this time, King’s worst fear came true. In 1987, he suffered a massive heart attack just like the one that had taken his beloved father from him. The media giant was only 54 years old, and although he survived, he had to undergo quintuple-bypass surgery. Okay, maybe now his personal life calmed down…and then again, maybe not.
29. He Liked Much Younger Women
In 1997, King reached a dubious new milestone in his dating life. That year, he married his seventh wife, Shawn Southwick, a singer and an actress who hosted a television show. In classic middle-aged fashion, Southwick was more than 25 years younger than King—only, that actually wasn’t the most controversial part of their romance.
30. He Got Married In A Hospital Bed
In a scene that belongs in a tragic romance novel, Southwick and King tied the knot in a hospital room. King was just about to go in for full-on heart surgery on a clogged blood vessel, and the iconic journalist likely wanted to feel less alone throughout the whole process. The pair later had two children together, Chance and Cannon.
31. He Had Seven Wives And Eight Marriages
Shawn Southwick ended up being Larry King’s final wife, but their marriage still didn’t last. When the couple made it to their 10th anniversary in 2007, Southwick lightly joked that she was “the only [wife] to have lasted into the two digits.” Despite this, they first filed for divorce in 2010, reconciled, and then filed again in 2019. Obviously King had a lot going on…and it wasn’t over yet.
32. He Had An Infamous Guest
King’s next big interview turned into a Greek Tragedy. On July 19, 2004, King invited Tammy Faye Messner, the ex-+wife of disgraced Evangelical minister Jim Bakker, to his show, where she announced that after a battle with colon cancer, she was disease-free. It was the first of her several appearances—but it didn’t have a happy ending.
33. A Tragedy Occurred Right After His Show
On July 19, 2007, Messner came back to Larry King Live for the final time. Her cancer had come back, ravaging her body to a mere 65 pounds, and she could no longer eat solid food. Nonetheless, King listened as patiently as he always did, and let Messner tell her story. The very next day, Tammy Faye passed at just 65 years old.
34. He Had A Hidden Talent
Even though Larry King was in our homes nearly every night, there’s one thing about him that would surprise most fans. He was a WWE wrestler! Well, sort of. In October 2012, the 79-year-old King appeared on WWE Raw with his then-wife Shawn Southwick, getting in on a storyline with The Miz and Kofi Kingston.
35. He Was In The Trial Of The Century
One of King’s biggest legacies is also one of the most nefarious moments in American History: The OJ Simpson car chase and trial in 1994. King made sure to cover the developments on the Simpson case on his nightly show, and Americans were absolutely glued to their screens. You know, exactly where Larry King wanted them to be.
36. He Had A Second Job
Almost everyone who watched King knows that the man had nearly boundless energy. As it happens, that ethic was in him almost from the very beginning. When he first started Larry King Live, he was still doing The Larry King Show as well, and would wrap up at 10:00 pm on his television show, only to head right over to do the radio broadcast.
37. He Never Prepared For Interviews
King might have been a mind-bogglingly hard worker, but there was one thing he would never do. To keep his easy-going brand, King swore never to read any of the books the people coming on his show had written. According to King, he wanted to come at it fresh and be in the same position as his audience members. Then again, maybe Larry just didn’t like homework.
38. He Was A TV Legend
It’s hard to fathom just how many people Larry King interviewed over the years. In the 2000s, his show even became the longest-running show hosted by the same person, on the same network, and in the same time slot. When he retired, King had taped 6,000 episodes and had done 60,000 interviews in his career. God, what have I done lately?
39. He Made A Cameo On A Famous Show
You might not realize it, but in addition to hosting an influential talk show, King has been in some of the most iconic films and shows of the 20th century. He voiced Doris the Ugly Stepsister in Shrek 2 and has also made cameo appearances on shows like The People vs. OJ Simpson and Law and Order: Trial by Jury. You know you’ve made it when Law and Order invites you on.
40. He Had One True Love
Despite his many failed marriages, Larry King did have one true love: Baseball. A Brooklyn boy through and through, people could often spot King sitting just behind home plate for the Brooklyn Dodgers and then later when they became the Los Angeles Dodgers. He even invested in bringing a (failed) Major League Baseball franchise to Buffalo, New York.
41. He Made A Sad Announcement
In early 2010, unsettling rumors started surfacing among the media that Larry King was going to step down. In summer of that year, King affirmed the whispers and announced that he was indeed leaving Larry King Live after 25 years on the air. He taped his last episode on December 16, 2010—and his final goodbye had the audience in tears.
42. He Had A Long Goodbye
After all those years standing in front of audiences and asking the questions everyone wanted to hear, King couldn’t quite let his illustrious career go. He promised he would return for occasional network specials, telling the studio crowd, “I do
n’t know what to say except to you, my audience, thank you. And instead of goodbye, how about so long.”
43. He Was Disturbingly Productive
Even after retiring, King couldn’t seem to slow down. Starting in 2012 up until his end, he kept his hands in a whole bunch of pies, including co-founding the production company Ora TV and launching his new talk show, Larry King Now, plus the educational show In View with Larry King. But all good things have to come to an end.
44. His Body Started To Fail Him
For a long while, it seemed like Larry King might live forever. But in 2017, the cracks started to show. Although he had been on top of his cardiovascular issues, that year doctors found a cancerous tumor in his lung. The medics were successful in surgically removing it, but even so, it was the first sign of things to come for King.
45. He Confessed His Deepest Secret
In 2019, Larry King made a disturbing confession. That November, King revealed on his show Polticking with Larry King that he had suffered a stroke back in March, and the attack had been so severe that it had put him into a coma “for weeks.” The journalist kept it hush-hush up until that point….and he still had more unsettling revelations to go.
46. He Thought About Ending Things
During his convalescence from his coma, King was overcome with terror. The stroke hemmed him in so much, he admitted he had contemplated taking his own life following the attack. As he put it on another radio show, “I thought I was just going to bite the bullet. I didn’t want to live this way.” Still, King did what he always did: He kept fighting.
47. He Buried His Children
In 2020, tragedy hit for one of the last times. Although King’s children with Alene Akins, Andy and Chaia, were still only 65 and 51, respectively, they passed within weeks of each other. Chillingly, in an eerie mirror of King’s own health issues, Andy passed of a heart attack, while his daughter Chaia succumbed to lung cancer.
48. He Deserves To Rest In Peace
Even the great Larry King couldn’t hold on forever. After battling his various illnesses, King went into the hospital in early January 2021, staying at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Tragically, he would never make it out this time. The broadcasting great passed on January 23, 2021, sending his loyal audience into loving mourning. Rest in peace, Larry.
49. He Offended Jerry Seinfeld
King might have been a titan of the talk show format, but he once made an utterly embarrassing mistake. He had comedian Jerry Seinfeld on as a guest in 2007, and made an off-hand comment about the sitcom Seinfeld having come to the end of its run after a cancellation. Spoiler: It had never been canceled. Jerry Seinfeld’s response was infamous.
50. A Comedian Humiliated Him
Instead of letting King carry on and forgiving the mistake, Seinfeld lay into the reporter with all the sharp wit he had at his disposal. “I was the No. 1 show on television, Larry.” Seinfeld quipped a little harshly. “Do you know who I am?!” Unwilling to let it go, Seinfeld then said, “Can we get a resume in here that Larry can go over?”
Mistake: Noted. Still, King had another huge error to come.
51. He Invited A Controversial Guest On His Show
For all his interviewing highs, Larry King had one mortifying low. Late in his career, King had the late actress Sharon Tate’s sister Debra onto his show, apparently hoping to discuss Sharon’s legacy after Charles Manson horrifically ended her life. Or, at least so everyone thought. The interview didn’t go the way he planned…
52. He Got His Facts Brutally Wrong
During the course of his conversation with Debra, King asked her about her relationship with Sharon’s widower, the (albeit disgraced) director Roman Polanski. When Debra replied that she still talked to Polanski, King’s response was the definition of a face-palm: “How can you have a civil conversation with someone who so brutally murdered your sister?”
Cue the crickets. Although Debra confusedly responds that Polanski didn’t, and that Manson did, there was no coming back from that one. You win some, you lose some, Larry.