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Larry King, master of the interview, dies with virus

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Larry King. Photo: Reuters

Larry King. Photo: Reuters

Larry King. Photo: Reuters

Larry King, the braces- sporting everyman whose broadcast interviews with world leaders, movie stars and ordinary Joes helped define American conversation for a half-century, died yesterday. He was 87.

No cause of death was given, but in early January a spokesperson had said that King had Covid.

A long-time nationally syndicated radio host, from 1985 to 2010 he was a nightly fixture on CNN. With his celebrity interviews, political debates and topical discussions, King wasn't just an enduring on-air personality. He also set himself apart with the curiosity he brought to every interview, whether questioning the assault victim known as the Central Park jogger or the billionaire industrialist Ross Perot, who in 1992 rocked the presidential contest by announcing his candidacy on King's show.

In its early years Larry King Live was based in Washington, DC, which gave the show an air of gravitas. Likewise King. He was the plain-spoken go-between through whom Washington bigwigs could reach their public - and they did, earning the show prestige as a place where news was made.

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews. In 1995 he presided over a Middle East peace summit with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. He welcomed everyone from the Dalai Lama to Elizabeth Taylor, from Mikhail Gorbachev to Barack Obama, Bill Gates to Lady Gaga.

Especially after he relocated to LA, his shows were frequently in the thick of breaking celebrity news, including Paris Hilton talking about her stint in jail in 2007 and Michael Jackson's friends and family members talking about his death in 2009.

King boasted of never overpreparing for an interview. His nonconfrontational style relaxed his guests and made him readily relatable to his audience. And he was known for getting guests who were notoriously elusive. Frank Sinatra, who rarely gave interviews and often lashed out at reporters, spoke to King in 1988 in what would be the singer's last major TV appearance. Sinatra was an old friend of King's and acted accordingly.

"Why are you here?" King asks. Sinatra responds, "Because you asked me to come and I hadn't seen you in a long time to begin with, I thought we ought to get together and chat, just talk about a lot of things."

King had never met Marlon Brando, who was even tougher to get and tougher to interview, when the acting giant asked to appear on King's show in 1994. The two hit it off so well they ended their 90-minute talk with a song and an on-the-mouth kiss, an image that was all over media in subsequent weeks.

In 2010 King abruptly announced he was retiring. His wide-eyed, regular-guy approach to interviewing by then felt dated in an era of edgy and pushy questioning by other hosts. And occasional flubs had made him seem out of touch or worse.

A prime example from 2007 found King asking Jerry Seinfeld if he had voluntarily left his sitcom or been cancelled by his network, NBC. "I was the No.1 show in television, Larry," replied Seinfeld with a flabbergasted look. "Do you know who I am?"

Always a workaholic, King would be back doing specials for CNN within a few months of performing nightly duties.

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He found a new sort of celebrity as a plain-spoken natural on Twitter, winning more than two million followers who simultaneously mocked and loved him for his esoteric style.

"I've never been in a canoe. #Itsmy2cents," he said in a typical tweet in 2015.

"Work," King once said. "It's the easiest thing I do."

© Associated Press


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