Larry King was the king of kings where television was concerned. The legendary TV host passed away aged 87 earlier this year in January, and now a legal battle is commencing regarding his will.
No matter what happens, King’s legacy will live on forever. But did you know that his name wasn’t actually “Larry King” from the beginning? This is the story of one of the most respected and biggest names in television history!
Larry King didn’t become the legendary TV host we all know and love straight away, but he always wanted to work within the field of broadcasting.
Larry King – early life
He was actually born Lawrence Zeiger on November 19, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Jewish immigrants. His father, Aaron Zieger, passed away when he was only a young child, and his mother, Jennie, and the rest of the family then had to live on welfare.
“I wanted to be a broadcaster since I could remember, when I was five years old,” King said on the series “Dispatches From Quarantine.”
Larry went to Lafayette High School. Following his graduation, he decided to work as a mail clerk in order to help support his mother and younger brother Marty.
At only 18 years of age, he tied the knot with Frada Miller. However, the marriage was quickly annulled, reportedly at the wish of her parents.
King loved broadcasting and wanted a career in radio. However, with his father passing when he was only nine years old, his dream job took a backseat: he was living in grief.
Following high school and his work as a mail clerk, he decided that he was once again was going to pursue his dream. And it all started with a pinch of luck.
Changed his name
Purely by chance, Larry got a meeting with a CBS announcer, who told him to go to Florida. The southern city had a growing market, and as a result, young inexperienced broadcasters would get their opportunities in the field.
When all was said and done, Larry King decided to move to Florida. However, the dream job didn’t find him right away. He started out working at the radio station WAHR as a cleaner, before one day, he got the chance of a lifetime.
After one of the announcers quit his job in 1957, Larry King got the chance to work as a stand-in. He was put on the 9AM to noon shift, also doing newscasts and sportscast during the afternoon.
However, there was a problem. The radio station’s general manager told Larry that his name, Zeiger, was “too ethnic”, and that the listeners would have a hard time remembering it.
Just minutes before he was to go on air, he decided on the last name “King”. Why? Well, Larry had seen an ad for King’s Wholesale Liquor, and basically thought it sounded good.
Though you might think that Larry King has always been a pro, able to interview anyone, no matter how famous or influential the person might be, he himself admitted to being very nervous while doing his first broadcast.
Larry King – own television program
“I was petrified,” King told People in 1980, as quoted by Fox. “The theme music was supposed to fade, and I was supposed to do a voice-over. But every time the music faded I’d turn it back up again.”
“Finally, the station manager stuck his head into the studio and said, ‘Remember, this is a communicating business.’ I let the music go down and told the audience what had just happened. Those were my first words on the radio.”
It wasn’t long before Larry became popular amongst his listeners. Just three years later, in 1960, he premiered with his first program on television, subsequently gaining a strong local following. He also became a newspaper columnist at the Miami Herald, as well as working on Miami News.
In the 1960s, another fortunate meeting involving Larry King would occur which took him onto even more successful paths. He met television legend Jackie Gleason – who at the time was producing a national television show in Miami – and Gleason became a great influence on King.
Later on, he also credited Gleason for teaching him everything about production in television, labeling him a mentor.
At this point in time, Larry would come upon a technique that was very rare in television and radio. It would also become one of his trademarks, and one that younger journalists could definitely learn from him.
Trademark question technique
King didn’t pepper his guests with pre-determined questions, just reading them and getting an answer. Instead, he asked them a question, listened carefully on what they had to say and the responded.
“That’s a model of mine: ask short questions, listen to the answer, follow up,” King told the Miami Herald in 2017.
“It started at Pumpernik’s when I was a DJ. One day Bobby Darin walked in. That’s the way I started. Bobby Darin. Jimmy Hoffa. We didn’t book them. I couldn’t prepare for them. I didn’t know they were coming. It was from the seat of my pants, and I love the whole idea of asking questions and getting answers.”
Ever since that day, Larry King stood by his technique, and boy was it successful.
“I’m always, ‘Why?’ I don’t have an agenda, I don’t assume the answer, I don’t know the answer,” he said.
“I have a motto that’s been with me all my life, I never learned anything when I was talking. Listening is as important.”
It looked like nothing could stop Larry from becoming one of the big national personalities in broadcasting. However, in 1971, King’s career hit what you could describe as rock bottom.
Larry was arrested for grand larceny in a complicated case involving payments to the District Attorney of New Orleans, Jim Garrison.
Back to Miami
He eventually pleaded no contest to one count of passing a bad check. Fortunately for him, the statute of limitations had ran out.
“The whole Lou Wolfson episode. Garrison. Getting involved in all that thing. I wish I had not been involved in that,” King said in 2017.
Larry King immediately lost all of his broadcasting roles, as well as newspaper jobs. He was acquitted of all charges in 1972, but by that point, he was deep in debt and had already been publicly disgraced. King started to rebuild his career once again, and in 1978, he once again was hired by WIOD in Miami, where he had his own coast-to-coast talk show, The Larry King Show.
King interviewed many guests, as well as fielding calls from people from different parts of the country. It became a great success, and before long, it was broadcasted on more than 500 affiliate stations.
The Miami Herald’s former magazine Tropic Sunday called him “the hottest radio property in the country” in 1981.
“I had to be a big man to prove to myself I was a big man. I was on a colossal ego trip,” King said at the time.
‘Larry King Live’ on CNN
By 1985, King’s audience had grown massive thanks to his successful show. He caught the attention of media mogul Ted Turned, who decided to hire him to host his own show on the new Cable News Network (CNN)
Now, Larry King Live was a reality, and the TV host had launched the first big international TV call-in show. Over the years, King interviewed everyone, from presidents to world-star athletes, movie stars and special individuals of the community. His became the highest-rated talk show on air, and eventually celebrities saw the show as a springboard for their own projects. To sum it up, people were dying to be on the show.
To put it into perspective, Ross Perot decided to declare that he was entering the presidential race in 1992 on Larry King Live.
Besides having the hottest show on television, King also used his big fan base to help others.
Throughout the years, he used Larry King Live ro raise awareness for many projects, including fundraising events for disaster reliefs such as those in New Orleans and Haiti.
Larry King – trademark suspenders
Larry King’s special technique for interviewing people was one thing. But over the years, he also became known for always wearing his classic suspenders.
When he first started broadcasting in Miami, he always wore a jacket and tie, and later on a half sweater. But after he lost in weight following heart surgery – at the time he was on CNN – his ex-wife Sharon cracked the idea of the suspenders.
“‘You know, you’re much trimmer, you look good, you ever tried suspenders?’ I had never worn suspenders in my life,” King recalled on the Today Show. “‘You ought to try it. It might be a nice look.’ I tried it and one night, put suspenders on. Some people called in and said, ‘Boy that looks good’ and that’s all you had to hear. And I’ve worn them ever since.”
In 2010, Larry King left CNN and started a new show, Larry King Now, which was broadcasted via internet platform Hulu, as well as on Russian network RT.
King had multiple health issues over the years, and in March of 2019, he suffered a stroke and was left in a coma for several weeks. One month later, he underwent heart surgery, and in January of 2021, he was hospitalized with COVID-19.
Larry King – cause of death
On January 23, Larry King passed away at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, aged 87.
To viewers and fans all over the world, Larry was a legend who interviewed everyone from “ordinary” citizens to world leaders and celebrities.
But to his son, Larry King Jr, he was simply “dad.”
“What we can all take away from our father’s last time with us was his love of life,” he told People. “He had an indomitable spirit. Although he lost the battle he beat so many times over the years, we continued to be inspired by his strength.”
“Our dad was always thinking and focused on what we were up to in our lives,” he added. “He enjoyed just spending time with us and sharing memories together, especially going to Dodger games. I remember us playing basketball in the front yard of our house. Celebrity tour buses would come around and I think they were caught off guard seeing dad shoot baskets with us. We just loved those moments.”
Larry King was praised by people from all over the world following his passing. However, even though he lived a remarkable life, he always knew time was catching up with him.
In 2020, he said that he’d had “every known malady” in the world, including prostate cancer, a heart attack and a stroke. Then, in 2020, he had to deal with two major tragedies when two of his children – Andy and Chaia – passed away just weeks a part.
Now that Larry King has passed, a battle for his estate is on. According to Yahoo, his estranged wife Shawn King is contesting a secret will that King wrote – which left his $2 million estate to his children.
A legal expert claims that she could be the one who ends up winning the case.
In February, just weeks following his father’s death, Larry King Jr submitted a holographic will that his father had written, dated October 17, 2019. It left the estate to his five children. Shawn’s lawyers, however, content that the will may have been written under “questionable circumstances”, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“This is my Last Will & Testament. It should replace all previous writings. In the event of my death, any day after the above date I want 100% of my funds to be divided equally among my children Andy, Chaia, Larry Jr Chance & Cannon,” the holographic will read.
Larry King shares children Chance and Cannon with Shawn. Chaia and Andy were his two children that tragically passed away.
“It will be argued that Larry did not have the capacity to draft a will. The fact that he hand wrote the will, combined with his possibly diminished capacity could lead one to believe he did not know what he was doing,” Shawn’s lawyer Walzer Melcher said.
“A man of Larry’s wealth and experience would ordinarily retain counsel to prepare an estate plan that would include a trust.”
Court date in March
“The holographic will is suspect. It is likely the will will be thrown out,” Walzer added. “Most people do not write out a will in their own handwriting.”
Larry King filed for a divorce from Shawn, who he wed in 1997, in August 2019. The couple had divorced in 2010, but that never went through. Their second divorce hadn’t been finalized when Larry King died.
“Larry was not pushing the divorce and was generally non-responsive and refused to participate in the divorce proceeding,” Shawn’s objection states, as published by the Los Angeles Times Times.
“He gave no indication that he actually wanted to pursue divorce (other than the initial filing of the Petition for Dissolution). Although entitled to seek trial preference because of his age, he did not avail himself of this option, and allowed the dissolution proceeding, which was filed in August 2019, to languish.”
According to Mercher, it’s “likely” that Shawn will inherit Larry King’s estate, with a court date that’s been set for March 25.
Larry King is one of the most legendary broadcasters in history, and we surely miss him much. Thank you for all wonderful moments, Larry. May you rest in peace.
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