Legendary talk show host and former CNN interviewer, Larry King, died on January 23, 2021, at age 87.
He was one of television news’ most immediately recognizable personalities, and it’s not just because of his trademark glasses and suspenders.
King has interviewed all sorts of subjects, from contentious beauty queens to influential world leaders, and has a unique knack for getting them to open up.
Here are five things you might not have known about Larry King:
1. A Liquor Wholesaler Made Him a King
Larry King was actually born Larry Zeiger. When he moved from Brooklyn to Miami in 1957 to make his fortune as a media personality, his first boss shot down his last name. Zeiger was “too ethnic,” so the aspiring host would need to pick a new name that was more memorable to listeners. According to King’s autobiography, his boss looked down at a paper and saw an ad for King’s Wholesale Liquors. When the boss said, “King! How about Larry King?”… a stalwart media personality was born.
2. He Called Dolphins Games
Before King became a big name on CNN, he spent the better part of two decades working the local media market in Miami. King was something of a jack-of-all-trades at the time, working as a TV talk show moderator, disc jockey, and writing a newspaper column.
One of King’s more interesting positions during this stint was serving as an analyst during Miami Dolphins games for WIOD-610 in Miami. King spent parts of the 1969-71 and 1977 seasons in the booth.
Unfortunately for King, he didn’t get to call the game when the Dolphins made the Super Bowl following the 1971 season. He lost his analyst job following a December 1971 arrest for grand larceny. King had been unable to pay back money he had borrowed from a business partner, but a judge later dismissed the charges.
3. He Hit Joh F. Kennedy
When King was still fairly new to Miami in 1958, he got into a little fender-bender. While that fact is unremarkable, the other motorist in the accident was: up-and-coming politician Senator John F. Kennedy. According to King, Kennedy angrily asked him, “Early Sunday morning, no traffic, not a cloud in the sky, I’m parked — how could you run into me?”
In King’s autobiography, he wrote about how flummoxed Kennedy was over the accident before showing a more charitable side of the future president. “Eventually he calmed down, and he said he’d forget the whole thing if we just promised to vote for him when he ran for president. We did, and he drove away—though not before saying, “Stay waaay behind me.'”
4. He Doesn’t Prepare For Shows
King prides himself on only making minimal preparations for each episode of his show. According to King, this technique helps him learn things about the interview subjects as the viewer learns them, so he doesn’t spend time reading authors’ books before interviews or brushing up on resumes.
As you might expect, this tactic has led to some pretty comical situations. After a 2007 interview with American Idol contestant Sanjaya Malakar, King confessed to the audience, “I have no idea who that guy is.”
In 1995, King told Entertainment Weekly, “When I was just starting — I swear to God — I asked a Catholic priest if he had any children and how old they were. That’s pretty dumb.”
5. He Locked Lips with Marlon Brando
King had a long, almost surreal interview with Marlon Brando in 1994 that included, among other distractions, Brando forcing King to shake the hand of the actor’s mastiff. The interview, which was conducted at Brando’s Beverly Hills home, is bizarre on a number of levels, but the most notable part was an agitated Brando kissing King on the mouth. (Fast forward to the 8:30 mark for their smooch, although the whole clip is strangely hypnotic).
A year later, King told Entertainment Weekly, “He’s the only man who has ever kissed me on the lips, including family members. I’m a confirmed heterosexual. And I would have to say that I’ve been thinking about him ever since.” (That “confirmed heterosexual” title is no joke, either; King has been married eight times to seven women).
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