Larry King felt fine, but he decided to keep his annual physical appointment — and that decision may have saved his life.
“I didn’t have any pain, but when they took a chest x-ray the doctor said, ‘There’s a little cloud here…,’ ” the legendary interviewer, 83, tells PEOPLE of his July 2017 appointment.
A CAT scan and PET scan followed, and King was diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer.
“They said I was lucky and smart to get annual chest x-rays because lung cancer doesn’t give you any signs until it’s in late stages,” King says. “And by then it’s too late.”
King — who recently launched the sixth season of Larry King Now — was allowed to go on a two-week European speaking tour but then returned to have surgery to remove the malignant mass.
“They went in through my ribs with a tiny camera and snipped it out,” King says. “I only had a little pain and some shortness of breath but once my speech is back full – and that took about a week – I went right back to work.”
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Now, King is opening up about his health scare in hopes of inspiring others to get checkups.
“When I had my heart attack and was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes [in 1987] and prostate cancer [in 1999,] I talked about it and felt that I helped a lot of people,” King says. “I want people to make sure to get annual x-rays.”
King says that despite quitting smoking cold turkey after his heart attack 30 years ago, doctors tell him his lung cancer stemmed from his years of smoking three packs a day.
“I never thought it would happen to me. I saw all the warnings but I never paid attention. I loved smoking but when I had the heart attack that February of 1987 I stopped that day and never reached for one again,” he says. “It was easy for me because I got scared to death.”
As King enters his seventh decade as a broadcaster, he refuses to let fears of mortality get in his way. (He lost his younger brother Marty, who was 80, to brain cancer last year, and their father died of a heart attack at the age of 46.)
“My father died so young, so I feel blessed to have had the life I had,” King says. “I’ve been a long time in this business, and I love everything I do. I love living.”
The father of five says he does a lot of walking every day and watches what he eats because he hopes to stick around long enough to see his two youngest sons, with seventh wife Shawn, reach their full potential as baseball stars.
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“I like having two teenage boys who are both baseball players. One’s 18 and was drafted by the White Sox and is going to play in college. One is 17 and is one of the best players in Southern California,” he says. “I want to see them graduate college and play pro ball. I want those things so why not take care of yourself.”
King also has no plans to slow down professionally.
“I feel very lucky to do what I do,” he says. “Every day is new and different. I never want to give that up.”