CNN talker Larry King
Photo: AP / CNN
Larry King wanted to live forever.
"The only thing I'm afraid of is dying," he said in 1992, when he was just 58. No wonder he was a fan of cryonics, the controversial preservation of corpses: after his death he wanted to freeze himself Let me "bring me back" one day, in another, better future.
The legendary CNN talk show host died on Saturday at the age of 87, but his very own way of interviewing was long gone by then. For decades, King served as America's soft focus: the man everyone wanted to chat with because he talked to everyone about everything
- presidents and rappers, philosophers and Hollywood stars.
This is precisely why King has long been the most successful, but at the same time the most derided interviewer in the world.
Although he was at least as famous as his guests in the end, he never got too close to anyone.
His questions often seemed shockingly naive, but elicited answers that investigative journalists fished for in vain.
The professionals wrinkled their noses, though more out of professional envy.
King flattered everyone equally, kings as well as killers.
Today, when infotainment has mutated into autocrat propaganda and TV reality into a political horror show, that would be unthinkable, intolerable.
King was first a pioneer of his time - and then its relic.
It was the era of big names and bigger scandals.
For example, ex-football star OJ Simpson, who was arrested for murder in 1993.
The sensational process, one of my first stories as a US correspondent, was a crash course in how everything we Germans like to divide into "E" and "U" has always been wildly mixed up here: politics with show business, opera with soap opera.
"How are you?"
Right in the middle: Larry King, the weird master of ceremonies.
During the Simpson trial, he crouched in the courtroom during the day, after which the actors often rushed straight from there to confession to his studio on Sunset Boulevard.
And who did Simpson give his first interview the day after the - at best problematic - acquittal?
King, jokingly at him: "How are you?"
So he talked to everyone, whether Liz Taylor or Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
It drove you to white heat.
But if you wanted to know what was
going on in Hollywood and the White House, you had to turn on "Larry King Live" in the evening.
There one learned more about the secrets of the secretive than in the lead desert of the "New Yorker".
"The greatest radio journalist of all time"
His CNN talk show, which ran from 1985 to 2010, was the most popular series in the station's history, with an average of 1.5 million viewers, but mostly many more.
CNN founder Ted Turner hired him personally.
The two "greatest achievements" of his career, Turner said on Saturday, were CNN and the employment of Larry King - "the greatest radio journalist of all time."
He never went to a journalism seminar or even had a high school degree, which only increased the arrogance of the "serious" industry.
The Jewish immigrant son from Brooklyn was working as a janitor for a small radio station in Miami in 1957 when he was allowed to step in for a DJ.
Soon he was talking to Muhammad Ali, Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis.
Betting debt, ego, and a fraud charge nearly killed his career.
CNN saved him.
He conducted almost 60,000 interviews, wearing suspenders and in front of an RCA microphone.
He was seen in Moscow hotels and at Sydney Airport.
Age-old journalism formula
King's Everyman style was authentic, despite living in Beverly Hills in a mansion with gold chintz furniture.
He rarely prepared himself, because his questions matched everything: “Who, what, where, when?” And above all: “Why?” As soon as a question is more than three sentences long, he knew it was “a bad question «.
This age-old journalist formula overwhelmed many of his disdainful critics, who preferred to hear themselves speak.
"My secret is that I'm stupid," he once said, which was by no means true.
He was humble and curious, genuinely interested and criminally underestimated.
Cuddling instead of confrontation, a deceptive trick.
Some interviewers could take this as an example.
Seven US presidents revealed themselves to him, from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama.
He heard the Clintons and Monica Lewinsky (separately).
He asked Ronald Reagan what it was like to be shot ("I had difficulty breathing") and Richard Nixon if he had ever been to the Watergate building (no, "but unfortunately others were there").
Donald Trump was a friend and regular - until his presidency: "This Donald is not the Donald I once knew," King said in 2019.
He spoke to Jassir Arafat and Jitzchak Rabin, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Madonna and Paul McCartney, Vladimir Putin, Bette Davis, the Beatles, Lady Gaga, Al Pacino, Liza Minelli, Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Betty Ford, Michelle Obama , Sammy Davis Jr., Henry Kissinger and a lady named "Kathy the Nymph".
Kermit and Miss Piggy wore suspenders in his honor.
Marlon Brando - who
gave interviews - kissed him on the mouth.
Only the honorable competition could never make friends with him.
King is the "vacation spot of American journalism, the Palm Springs of the media," said star columnist Maureen Dowd in the "New York Times".
The Washington Post described his interviews as "casual banter" and his show as an "oasis for the famous and infamous".
CNN dropped him in 2010 when quarreling became chic and chatting a thing of the past, and gave his slot to British presenter Piers Morgan, who preferred to hear himself talk.
The last time he was moderated, King shed tears.
He switched to the web, signed a much vilified license agreement with the Russian state broadcaster RT and began tweeting - scraps of thoughts that he dictated to an assistant ("I've never been in a canoe").
King, married eight times (to seven women), survived two heart attacks, quadruple bypass, lung cancer, angioplasty, and a stroke in 2019 that left him in a coma for weeks.
Since December he had been lying with Covid-19 in the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, the VIP clinic where countless of the stars he had interviewed had also died.
His death made "Breaking News" on CNN again, which mourned him all day after, ten years too late.
Many stars gave their condolences live.
It was the perfect Larry King show.
Icon: The mirror