Larry King: Success Behind the Suspenders

Originally published on Visionary Artistry Mag with photos here:

Where do you begin to tell the story of the man behind the suspenders and thick-rimmed glasses? Not the one who has married eight times, but the man who has interviewed people like George W. Bush, Marlon Brando, The Dalai Lama, ambassadors from Egypt and so many other political figures and celebrities.

King was born Nov. 19, 1933 as Lawrence Harvey Zieger in Brooklyn. Instead of starting there, he began his broadcasting career by moving to Miami, Fla., when he was 22 years old. He started pounding the pavement to look for any broadcasting jobs. He knocked on door after door with no luck until he came across WAHR (now WMBM) in Miami Beach.

“I made the rounds, and I couldn’t get in the door. But this small station – a guy named Marshall Simmonds was the general manager – gave me a mic test and it was the first time I’d ever spoken into a microphone, or been taped,” King said in an interview with the Academy of Achievement, a foundation that honors visionaries of various fields.

Simmonds couldn’t offer King a broadcasting job at the time. They were a full small station. Instead, he offered King a job cleaning the station. Simmonds told King that as soon as the first broadcaster quit, he would be hired as a replacement. King spent his time at the station sweeping floors and learning the news until someone would quit.

That finally happened, and King started his job as a disk jockey. The music was followed by two newscasts and one sportscast. On his first day, King got his name. Simmonds told King that Zieger was “too ethnic” and that people wouldn’t know how to spell it, so a new name was in order.

“I had never thought of another name. He [Simmonds] had the Miami Herald open and there was an ad for King’s Wholesale Liquors on Washington Avenue. He said, ‘How about Larry King?’ I said, ‘Sounds fine to me.’ He said, ‘Okay, you’re Larry King. Get in there, baby. Good luck’,” King said in the Academy of Achievement interview.

All of his hard work was paying off, but possibly taking a toll on him physically. King was eventually diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, and underwent a quintuple bypass heart surgery in 1987. Luckily, King made it through the surgery well and continued on his path to what is now considered broadcast history. He knew that others wouldn’t have such luck. In 1988, King founded the Larry King Cardiac Foundation. The group strives to provide funding to people who can’t afford to undergo serious cardiac procedures.

Today, King is most well known for his CNN show Larry King Live. The broadcaster began this show in 1985 after catching the attention ofTed Turner. His show became popular for politicians during elections and celebrities. He’s built a kingdom (pun kind of intended) on one crucial factor: listening.

“I never learned anything while I was talking,” King explained to Esquire.

“He [King] lends a sympathetic ear. He doesn’t hammer away at his guests. Instead, he draws their story out and that makes him very hot despite theate fact that he is physically not Zac Efron,” Michael Musto, columnist for the Village Voice, told ABCNews.

King’s success is obvious to those outside of the broadcast industry, but his process, style and technique are examples to follow for those in the same field. “Unlike Bill O’Reilly, who interviews like he is firing a machine gun, Larry has a softer approach to interviewing. He talks a lot less than most other interviewers. We all want someone to listen to us. We are naturally attracted to people who will listen to us because it makes us feel comfortable to share,”  Paul Levinson said in an interview with ABCNews. Levinson is a professor of communications at Fordham University in New York.

Larry King’s story is teeming with life, and it’s all over the Internet. Shuffling through page after page of divorce stories, USA Today columns and achievement articles is a daunting task. The divorces are old news. (After the first four or five, it’s expected to happen again). Accusations of affairs are getting to be blasé, even with media hype on sexuality and controversy. “Questions about my marriages and divorces always take me to the same place. I once asked Stephen Hawking, the smartest guy in the world, what he didn’t understand. He said, ‘Women.’ If the smartest guy in the world couldn’t understand them, what do you expect from me?” King said inEsquire.

Larry King Live went off the air in 2010, but he continued to host CNN Specials into 2012. Stopping? Not an option. “Retire? To what? I’m not retiring. I’m just leaving the show. I could never retire,” King said in Esquire. From 2013 to 2015, King hosted the educational series, “In View with Larry King,” which aired on networks including Discovery, but now his focuses are a little more modern: Twitter.

“I love tweeting…. I think it’s a different world we’ve entered. When people were calling in, theyy were calling in to the show and now on Twitter I’m giving out thoughts, opinions. The whole concept has changed,” he said with Entertainment Weekly.

Although his show is over, King has a lot of work he still wants to do. Between writing books, focusing on the Larry King Cardiac Foundation and coming up with his next big tweet, the curious interviewer still wants to keep working. As King explained to Esquire, he’s still got the key to success: “The secret to my success is brevity. Sincerity. And, above all, curiosity.”

-Geneva Toddy


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