"When there are moments of unhappiness in a marriage, you can overcome it at 40, but at my age, it became a lot," says Larry King

By Aili Nahas
February 05, 2020 03:00 PM

Last year was a rough one for Larry King. The legendary television host not only suffered from a near-fatal stroke in May, but three months later, he filed for divorce from his wife of 22 years, Shawn Southwick King.

“I’m sorry about the marriage,” King, 86, tells PEOPLE. “I’ll always care for my wife. But it just hit a point where we didn’t get along.”

When King, who hosts Ora TV’s Larry King Now, wed singer Southwick King, now 60, in 1997, he had already been divorced seven times. (Two divorces were from the same woman, whom he married twice.)

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Shawn Southwick King and Larry King
Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images

But when it comes to his past relationships, King is unequivocal.

“I got married a lot,” he acknowledges. “But in my head, I’m not a marrying guy. When I grew up, nobody lived together. If you fell in love, you got married. And so I married the ones that I loved. But what I loved at 20 is not what I loved at 30 and what I loved at 30 is not what I loved at 40.”

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Still, King’s relationship with Southwick King, with whom he has sons Chance, 20, and Cannon, 19, appeared to defy his previous patterns, even as they weathered public rumors of infidelity. (The couple split briefly in 2010, but soon reconciled.)

“I never cheated on my wives,” says King. (Southwick King has also denied cheating rumors.) Still, the award-winning interviewer admits, “My career always came first. I used to say if CNN called with an emergency and my wife called with an emergency, I’d call CNN back first.”

But ultimately, says King, several factors contributed to the split.

Larry King
Jonny Marlow

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“We had a big age difference and that eventually takes its toll,” says King, who is 26 years older than Southwick King. “It became an issue. Also, [Shawn] is a very religious Mormon and I’m an agnostic atheist, so that eventually causes little problems.”

Continues King: “We overcame a lot, but eventually it became a ships passing in the night situation.”

Shawn Southwick King and Larry King
Shawn King/Instagram

After King’s stroke, “I thought a lot about what I wanted the rest of my life to be,” he says. “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.”

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Still, despite their divorce, “I wish her nothing but the best,” says King of his ex. “We love each other.”

And today, King, rehabilitating from the stroke (his left foot is still severely weakened), is nonetheless content — and looking forward to the future.

“I feel grateful for everything,” he says. “Life is truly a gift.”