Larry King Opens Up About His Near-Fatal Stroke: 'They Told My Family I Was Going to Die'

"I have less of a fear of dying now," says Larry King on what he's learned since suffering a major stroke last May

It’s been nearly nine months since Larry King suffered a near-fatal stroke, but these days, the legendary TV host is feeling better by the day — and grateful to be alive.

“It’s been a rough year,” King, 86, who had the stroke in May, just weeks after heart surgery to place a stent (King had a heart attack in 1987), tells PEOPLE. “And I don’t have any idea of what 2020 is going to be like. But I can still work and I can watch my kids grow up. I feel positive — and hopeful.”

King, who hosts Ora TV’s Larry King Now, has little memory of the stroke and its immediate aftermath, recalling, “I was driving to the doctor’s office, and I don’t remember anything after that. I woke up in intensive care and I had tubes in me. They told my family I was going to die.”

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Shaken, King panicked. “When I came out of [the stroke] and learned what had happened, I had an instant thought and I said to my son, [Chance, 20], ‘I want to die,’ ” says King. “But that was a passing thing. I never had that thought again, or before. And Chance kept me going. He said, ‘You can’t go, you’re not going to go,’ and so I came home.”

Larry king
Jonny Marlow

Recovery for King, who split from his wife of 22 years, Shawn Southwick King, three months after the stroke, has been slow but steady.

The award-winning interviewer suffers from drop foot, a side effect from the stroke that caused weakness in his left foot, and uses a wheelchair and walker. (He goes to rehab for his foot 3-4 days a week.) Some moments are harder than others.

“I get mad,” King admits. “When I have to be helped into a chair it’s like, ‘Come on.’ But I try to rely on my sense of humor. I think you live longer if you laugh a lot.”

And surviving such a health scare also brought King to terms with his own mortality.

“I have less of a fear of dying now,” says the father of five (he also has Cannon, 19, with Southwick King and three grown children with two of his ex-wives). “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!”

But King isn’t showing any signs of slowing down just yet.

“I’m very proud of what I do,” he says. “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.”

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