Larry King: Success Behind The Suspenders
Where do you begin to tell the story of the man behind the suspenders and thick-rimmed glasses? Not the one who has married eight times, but the man who has interviewed people like George W. Bush, Marlon Brando, The Dalai Lama, ambassadors from Egypt and so many other political figures and celebrities.
King was born Nov. 19, 1933 as Lawrence Harvey Zieger in Brooklyn. Instead of starting there, he began his broadcasting career by moving to Miami, Fla., when he was 22 years old. He starting pounding the pavement to look for any broadcasting jobs. He knocked on door after door with no luck until he came across WAHR (now WMBM) in Miami Beach.
“I made the rounds, and I couldn’t get in the door. But this small station – a guy named Marshall Simmonds was the general manager – gave me a mic test and it was the first time I’d ever spoken into a microphone, or been taped,” King said in an interview with the Academy of Achievement. Simmonds couldn’t offer King a broadcasting job at the time. They were a full small station. Instead, he offered King a job cleaning the station. Simmonds told King that as soon as the first broadcaster quit, he would be hired as a replacement. King spent his time at the station sweeping floors and learning the news until someone would quit.
That finally happened, and King started his job as a disc jockey. The music was followed by two newscasts and one sportscast. On his first day, King got his name. Simmonds told King that Zieger was “too ethnic” and that people wouldn’t know how to spell it, so a new name was in order.
“I had never thought of another name. He [Simmonds] had the Miami Herald open and there was an ad for King’s Wholesale Liquors on Washington Avenue. He said, ‘How about Larry King?’ I said, ‘Sounds fine to me.’ He said, ‘Okay, you’re Larry King. Get in there, baby. Good luck’,” King said on Achievement.org.
Today, King is most known for his CNN show Larry King Live. The broadcaster began this show in 1985 after catching the attention of Ted Turner. His show became popular for politicians during elections and celebrities. He’s built a kingdom (pun kind of intended) on one crucial factor: listening. “I never learned anything while I was talking,” King said in Esquire.
His success is obvious to those in the field. Those who know the dos and don’ts of interviewing can find a great example in King. “Unlike Bill O’Reilly, who interviews like he is firing a machine gun, Larry has a softer approach to interviewing. He talks a lot less than most other interviewers. We all want someone to listen to us. We are naturally attracted to people who will listen to us because it makes us feel comfortable to share,” Paul Levinson said in an interview with ABCNews. Levinson is a professor of communications at Fordham University in New York.
“He [King] lends a sympathetic ear. He doesn’t hammer away at his guests. Instead, he draws their story out and that makes him very hot despite that fact that he is physically not Zac Efron,” Michael Musto, columnist for the Village Voice, told ABCNews. Larry King’s story is teeming with life, and it’s all over the Internet. Shuffling through page after page of divorce stories, USA Today columns and achievement articles is a daunting task. The divorces are old news. (After the first four or five, it’s expected to happen again). Accusations of affairs are getting to be blasé, even with media hype on sexuality and controversy.
“Questions about my marriages and divorces always take me to the same place. I once asked Stephen Hawking, the smartest guy in the world, what he didn’t understand. He said, ‘Women.’ If the smartest guy in the world couldn’t understand them, what do you expect from me?” King said in Esquire. Larry King Live went off the air in 2010, but that doesn’t mean King has stopped working. He currently hosts specials for CNN. “Retire? To what? I’m not retiring. I’m just leaving the show. I could never retire,” King said in Esquire.
Interviewing and working in broadcast as long as King has takes a toll on a person. Not only has he served as a talk show host , but King has written many books and had cameos in movies like Shrek 2. Late nights and early mornings are often crammed together, and that’s work outside of a personal life.
King developed cardiovascular disease. In 1987, King underwent a quintuple bypass heart surgery. Luckily, King made it through the surgery well, and his insurance paid for it. He knew that others wouldn’t have such luck. In 1988, King founded the Larry King Cardiac Foundation. The group strives to provide funding to people who can’t afford to undergo serious cardiac procedures. Although his show is over, King has a lot of work he still wants to do. Between hosting specials for CNN, writing books and the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, the curious interviewer still wants to keep working.
King told Esquire the formula to his success: “The secret to my success is brevity. Sincerity. And, above all, curiosity.”