|Larry King was born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger on 19th November 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, USA.
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He is an award-winning American broadcaster. He currently hosts a nightly interview program called Larry King Live. The show airs on CNN.
Larry's parents were Jennie and Eddie Zeiger, Jews who had emigrated from Belarus (Minsk and Pinsk) to Brooklyn, New York. They owned a bar-and-grill. Their first son Irwin was born in 1932, but died at age six of appendicitis. After Larry, they had another son, Marty.
Larry Zeiger grew up and attended public schools in Brooklyn. His childhood friends reportedly included the baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax (although there are differing accounts of whether or not King actually knew Koufax and the owner of the New York Mets, Fred Wilpon. He lived for some time in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from the local high school (Lafayette High School), Zeiger worked odd jobs, including a stint as a mail clerk with Associated Merchandising Corporation and then with United Parcel Service. He left Brooklyn for Miami at the age of 22 to pursue a job in radio.
Zeiger got his first job in radio through persistence. A small station, WAHR in Miami Beach, hired him to clean up and perform miscellaneous tasks. When one of their announcers quit, they put him on the air. His first broadcast was on May 1, 1957, when he worked as the disc jockey from 9 am to noon. He also did two afternoon newscasts and a sportscast. He was paid $55 a week. He acquired the name Larry King when the general manager suggested that Zeiger was too ethnic and hard to remember. He started interviewing on a midmorning show for WIOD, at Pumpernik's restaurant in Miami Beach. He would interview anyone who walked in. His first interview was with a waitress at the restaurant. Two days later, singer Bobby Darin, in Miami for a concert later that day, walked into Pumpernick's as a result of coming across King's show on his radio; Darin became King's first celebrity interview guest.
His Miami radio show launched him to local stardom. A few years later, in May 1960, he hosted Miami Undercover, airing Sunday nights at 11:30 on WPLG-TV Channel 10. On the show he moderated debates on important issues of the day.
In the early 1970s, he was entangled in legal and financial troubles. He was arrested on December 20, 1971 and charged with grand larceny. The charges stemmed from a deal he had made with Louis Wolfson. In 1968, Wolfson was convicted of selling unregistered stock.
The circumstances are unclear. According to King, he told Wolfson that he could arrange a special investigation by John Mitchell, the incoming US Attorney General, to overturn the conviction. Wolfson agreed, and paid King $48,000. King never delivered, and could not pay back the money. When Wolfson was released from prison, he went after King. According to Wolfson, King served as an intermediary between Wolfson and New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. Garrison was investigating the assassination of President Kennedy, but needed to raise funds for the investigation. Wolfson offered to pay $25,000 to help fund the investigation. The arrangement was that Wolfson gave Larry King cash (about $5,000 per visit). King was supposed to give this to Richard Gerstein, the State Attorney for Dade County, Florida. Gerstein was to transfer the money to Garrison. This took place over a year or two. Wolfson eventually found that not all the money he gave to King made it to Garrison. The larceny charge was dropped, because the statute of limitations had run out. But King pled no contest to one of 14 charges of passing bad checks. As a result of these troubles, he was off the air for three years. During those three years he worked several jobs. He was the PR director at a race track in Louisiana and he wrote some articles for Esquire Magazine, including a major piece on New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath.
While in Louisiana, King managed to get back into radio by becoming the color commentator for broadcasts of the Shreveport Steamers of the World Football League. Eventually, King was rehired by WIOD in Miami. In 1978 he went national, inheriting the nightly talk show slot on the Mutual Radio Network, broadcast coast-to-coast, that had been "Long John" Nebel's until his death, and had been pioneered by Herb Jepko. King's Mutual show developed a devoted audience, paving the way for the likes of Art Bell and King's weekend relief host Jim Bohannon, among many, many others. It was broadcast live Monday through Friday from Midnight to 5:30am eastern time. Larry would interview a guest for the first 90 minutes, allowing callers to continue the interview for another 90. At 3am, Larry would allow the callers to discuss any topic they pleased with him, until the end of the program. They called that segment "Open Phone America". Some of the regular callers included "The Portland Laugher", "The Todd Cruz Caller", "The Scandal Scooper", and "The Water is Warm Caller". The show was wildly successful as a loss leader, starting with relatively few affiliates and eventually growing to more than 500. It ran until 1994. For its final year, the show was moved to afternoons but, because of the rise of Rush Limbaugh, was unable to generate the same audience size as the overnight show did. The afternoon show was eventually given to David Brenner and radio affiliates were given the option of carrying the audio of King's CNN evening program. He started his CNN show in June 1985, and the Westwood One radio simulcast of the CNN show continues at the time of this writing.
Unlike many interviewers, Larry King has a direct, non-confrontational approach. His interview style is characteristically frank and no-nonsense, but with occasional bursts of irreverence and humor. His non-confrontational approach attracts some guests who would not otherwise appear.
Throughout his career he has interviewed many of the leading figures of his time. Among his most famous interviews were Tony Blair, Marlon Brando, Barbara Bush, Johnny Carson, Johnny Cash, Bette Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Gleason, Mikhail Gorbachev, Billy Graham, Audrey Hepburn, Gordon B. Hinckley, Bob Hope, L. Ron Hubbard, Michael Jordan, Bobby Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Monica Lewinsky, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Al Pacino, H. Ross Perot, Prince, Nancy Reagan, Eleanor Roosevelt, Pete Rose, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Shania Twain, Margaret Thatcher, Oprah Winfrey, Vladimir Putin, and Malcolm X. In all, CNN claims that he has interviewed over 40,000 people, but his television show ratings have been in a constant state of decline over the past several years.
On February 27, 1987, King suffered a major heart attack and then had quintuple-bypass surgery. It was a life-altering event. Previously smoking was one of his trademarks and he was not apologetic about this habit. King was a three-pack-a-day smoker and kept a lit cigarette during his interview so he would not have to take time to light up during breaks. He now encourages curbing of smoking to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
King has written two books about living with heart disease. Mr. King, You're Having a Heart Attack: How a heart attack and bypass surgery changed my life (1989, ISBN 0440500397) was written with New York's Newsday science editor, B. D. Colen. Taking on Heart Disease : Famous Personalities Recall How They Triumphed Over the Nation's #1 Killer and How You Can, Too (2004, ISBN 1579548202) features the experience of various celebrities with cardiovascular disease including Peggy Fleming and Regis Philbin.