Larry King

On this date in 1933, TV and radio host Larry King (né Lawrence Harvey Zeiger) was born to Jennie (Gitlitz) and Aaron Zieger. His parents were Russian Orthodox Jews who immigrated to the U.S. from Belarus in the 1930s. King attended public schools, and after his father died at age 47 of a heart attack when Larry was 9, the family had to rely on welfare.

His first broadcasting job was in 1957 at a radio station in Miami Beach, Fla. He started using the name Larry King on air at the behest of management and changed his name legally about two years later. Singer Bobby Darin was his first celebrity interview.

“The Larry King Show” gained national prominence on the Mutual radio network, with the show airing from 1978-94, rising from 28 to over 500 affiliates. “Larry King Live” had started airing on CNN in 1985. Along with those two shows, he wrote a regular column for USA Today from 1982 to 2001. The final edition of “Larry King Live” aired in December 2010 after over 6,000 episodes. During his career, he did more than 60,000 interviews. But he was soon back on the air after co-founding a production company called Ora TV. In 2017 he said he had no intention of ever retiring, despite having had a heart attack and five-bypass surgery in 1987.

The recipient of numerous awards, King in 2002 was named by Talkers magazine as the fourth-greatest radio talk show host of all time (behind Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern and Don Imus) and the top TV talk host ever.

King was married eight times to seven women, the first when he was 19 in 1952. He married Shawn Southwick twice, though they were estranged and divorcing again when he died at age 87 from sepsis stemming from respiratory failure and renal disease. He had five children, including a son, Larry King Jr., born during his brief second marriage. They didn’t meet until Larry Jr. was in his 30s.

“I’m not a churchgoer. I used to go sometimes with my wife — I don’t go anymore,” King told an interviewer from GQ magazine. (April 30, 2009) “In fact, the more I interviewed religious leaders, the less religious I became. Because they don’t have the answers I need. I don’t get the answer to why. Why is there a Holocaust? And the answer I get is ‘We do not question the ways of the Lord.’ A lot of it — I tend to agree with Bill Maher — is superstitious.” (D. 2021)

PHOTO: King at Celebrity Fight Night XXIII in 2017 in Phoenix; Gage Skidmore photo under CC 3.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation