Larry King, Legendary Journalist and Radio Host, Dies at 87
The former Larry King Live host's media career spanned more than six decades
Longtime journalist and radio host Larry King has died. He was 87.
"With profound sadness, Ora Media announces the death of our co-founder, host, and friend Larry King, who passed away this morning at age 87 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles," read a post shared on King's Twitter account Saturday. A cause of death was not given. King's death comes weeks after he was hospitalized with COVID-19.
"For 63 years and across the platforms of radio, television and digital media, Larry's many thousands of interviews, awards, and global acclaim stand as a testament to his unique and lasting talent as a broadcaster. Additionally, while it was his name appearing in the shows' titles, Larry always viewed his interview subjects as the true stars of his programs, and himself as merely an unbiased conduit between the guest and audience," the statement continued. "Whether he was interviewing a U.S. president, foreign leader, celebrity, scandal-ridden personage, or an everyman, Larry liked to ask short, direct, and uncomplicated questions. He believed considered questions usually provided the best answers and he was not wrong in that belief."
"Larry's interviews from his 25-year run on CNN's 'Larry King Live,' and his Ora Media programs 'Larry King Now,' and 'Politicking with Larry King' are consistently referenced by media outlets around the world and remain part of the historical record of the late 20th and early 21st centuries," the statement concluded. "Ora Media sends our condolences to his surviving children Larry, Jr., Chance, Canon and the entire King family. Funeral arrangements and a memorial service will be announced later in coordination with the King family, who ask for their privacy at this time."
The news of King's hospitalization due to COVID-19 was reported on Jan. 2. "Larry has fought so many health issues in the last few years and he is fighting this one hard too, he's a champ," a source close to the King family told ABC News at the time.
His death comes five months after the deaths of two of his children in the summer of 2020: son Andy and daughter Chaia, who died within 23 days apart of each other.
Andy died suddenly of a heart attack on July 28. He was 65. Chaia died on Aug. 20, shortly after being diagnosed with lung cancer. She was 51.
"Both of them were good and kind souls and they will be greatly missed," King wrote on Facebook at the time. "Losing them feels so out of order. No parent should have to bury a child."
King shared daughter Chaia with his ex-wife Alene Akins. He adopted Andy, Akins' son, from a previous relationship, after the two got married for the first time in 1961.
Known for his gentle, unassuming interviewing technique and his signature colorful suspenders, King was a nighttime cultural institution for more than two decades thanks to his award-winning CNN talk show, Larry King Live. Though often chided by critics (and his pricklier guests) for his lack of preparation — in 2007, he notoriously asked guest Jerry Seinfeld if his show had been canceled, a decade after Seinfeld had gone off the air — King considered his mental tabula rasa a point of pride, claiming his show succeeded because he learned about his guests as the viewers did.
In later years, both his advanced age and his suspender-wearing style became a staple of late-night jokes, but by the time he signed off Larry King Live for the last time in 2010, he could boast of having conducted an astounding 60,000 interviews.
"Larry King defined the art of the television interview," CNN said in a statement at the time. "His candor, curiosity and compassion are legendary, and his ability to interview people from all walks of life — world leaders, celebrities and everyday people — has made him an icon."
King was born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger on Nov. 19, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York. He changed his birth name when he began his broadcast career in Miami in the late 1950s. In 1985, he launched the cable TV show Larry King Live, which became CNN's tent-pole program.
For 25 years, King interviewed an expansive slate of celebrities, politicians and athletes from around the world. The list includes the late John F. Kennedy Jr., Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Dalai Lama, Donald Trump, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Paris Hilton, Lady Gaga, Frank Sinatra and LeBron James.
"The funniest person I've ever met is Mel Brooks," King once wrote on his website. "I wonder if he feels the same way about me?"
In 2012, King launched the sit-down talk show Larry King Now on Ora TV. It ran for eight seasons until February 2020.
Throughout his time working in media, King received a number of awards for his journalistic accomplishments, including two Peabody Awards and inductions into the National Radio Hall of Fame and Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Additionally, King was the author of several books.
In 1987, King suffered a heart attack and underwent a quintuple bypass. Naturally, he turned it into a talking point with famous guests who'd also survived heart disease.
Over the course of his life, the New York native was married eight times, two of those times to the same woman: Freda Miller (1952-53), Annette Kaye (1961), Alene Akins (1961-63), Mickey Sutphin (1964-67), Alene Akins (again from 1968-71), Sharon Lepore (1976-83), Julie Alexander (1989-92) and Shawn Southwick King (1997-present).
In 2010, King filed for divorce from Shawn, 61, only to retract the paperwork three months later. Their marriage remained rocky, however — sources told PEOPLE in 2016 that the broadcast icon was distraught about an alleged yearlong affair his wife had been having, though the couple publicly denied any reports of cheating at the time.
In August 2019, his lawyer confirmed to PEOPLE that King had filed for divorce again, this time after nearly 22 years of marriage. The late King shared two sons with Shawn: Chance, 21, and Cannon, 20.
A source told PEOPLE at the time that King's health scares earlier that year played a role in his decision to end his marriage. In April 2019, he suffered an angina, which mimics a heart attack, and underwent an angioplasty. The following month, he suffered a stroke that left him in a coma for weeks.
"He realized that he hadn’t been happy for a long time," the source said. "They fought and argued all the time. But also it’s about protecting his kids. Shawn and Larry had essentially been separated for a decade."
In February 2020, King opened up about the split, telling PEOPLE he would "always care" for his wife, but that "it just hit a point where we didn't get along."
"We had a big age difference and that eventually takes its toll," he said. "It became an issue. Also, [Shawn] is a very religious Mormon and I'm an agnostic atheist, so that eventually causes little problems. We overcame a lot, but eventually it became a ships-passing-in-the-night situation."
After his stroke, "I thought a lot about what I wanted the rest of my life to be," he continued. "When there are moments of unhappiness in a marriage, you can overcome it at 40, but at my age, it became a lot. I wanted to be happy. Separating was of course difficult. But there is nothing worse than arguing."
The legendary journalist is survived by his estranged wife and three of his five children: Chance, Cannon and son Larry King Jr., 59, with Kaye.
"I have less of a fear of dying now," he told PEOPLE in early 2020. "I'm 86 and it is what it is. I just want to keep working until the end. I'd like to die at work — I'll retire right there!"
"I'm very proud of what I do," he added. "And I'm a good father — nothing beats parenthood. There's an element of pinching myself every day. Look at what I've come through. All in all if you look at it, I've had a blessed life."