If he hadn’t become the legendary broadcaster that he is today, Larry King might still be subjecting one driver to his version of the Spanish — or in this case Brooklyn — Inquisition.
“I remember being nine years old, getting on a bus, asking a bus driver why he drives a bus, what he gets out of driving a bus, what are the rewards,” King tells ITK. The fact is, the New York native says, he was simply born curious and with an inexplicable desire to be behind the microphone.
“I used to listen to radio shows, imitate the announcers, pretend I was an announcer. I didn’t want to be a fireman, I didn’t want to be a doctor, I wanted to be on the air.”
The childhood dream has morphed into a career spanning more than five decades. And at 81, King shows no signs of stopping.
The longtime CNN personality is currently hosting the political and current events talk show, “PoliticKING,” as well as the Emmy-nominated entertainment talk show, “Larry King Now,” both available on Ora.tv and Hulu. On Wednesday, he’ll recount some of his biggest stories at a members-only event at the Newseum in Washington.
Despite all his professional accomplishments, the wisecracking, suspender-wearing entertainer doesn’t miss a beat when asked what makes him happiest in life: “When my wife smiles.” He quickly adds with a laugh, “It’s true, because I find when she doesn’t smile, I’m unhappy.”
We soon learned there was much more to discover about King — such as his desire to be frozen, his critical take on the current media landscape, and that time Barbara Bush playfully scolded him — when we asked him these questions.
Grew up in: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Toughest political interview: There have been a lot of tough political interviews. The best I can say is that when a politician says, “I’m glad you asked that,” it means he’s not glad you asked that and he’s trying to figure out a way to answer it. But I’ve had pretty good times with politicians. If you’re a politician, you shouldn’t be afraid to speak.
Has any interview made you nervous? The first time I interviewed a president who was in office was Bush, George H.W. Bush, at the White House, and that was a little nervous for like five minutes — because to be in the White House, and I was still rather young. But before Bush I had interviewed Reagan out of the White House and Nixon out of the White House.
The White House added to the nerves, especially when [then-first lady Barbara Bush] said to me, “Larry you’re not wearing a jacket?” because I had my suspenders, which was my calling card. That was very cute, but that added to the nervousness.
What was your reaction? I said, “Barbara, I have to. It’s my image."
Most surprising interview: G. Gordon Liddy — I didn’t want to like him. I didn’t want to like him at all because that Watergate burglary was just terrible to me and all of the quotes I had ever seen by him annoyed me. But I couldn’t help but I liked him. He was so honest and so bizarre.
I remember I asked him, “Did you really want to kill [journalist] Jack Anderson?” He said, “Absolutely.”
I said, “What if I thought you were bad for the country and I wanted to kill you?”
He said, “That’s fair game.”
So that surprised me and I liked him.
Favorite hobby/activity: My hobbies are sports, theater. Sports would be No. 1. Reading — love to read books. I read two books at a time. And I love movies and theater.
After work, you’ll find me: You’ll find me either at home or if one of my kids is playing a ballgame, I’m very involved, I’ve got two young boys. My 15-year-old [Chance] is in Florida at a baseball camp. And my younger one, Cannon, plays for Beverly Hills High.
Favorite/most hated food: I hate eggs. I won’t go near an egg. I hate the smell of an egg. It must go a long time because I can’t tell you the last time I tasted an egg.
And my favorite food is, pinned to the wall, lamb chops. I love the taste of a good lamb chop. My mother made great lamb chops. I like steak and I like swordfish. But if I’m down to it, the electric chair, lamb chops.
Most embarrassing moment: When I just started in radio, and I was doing my interview shows, 23 years old, and I had a Catholic priest on, and I asked him if he was married and how many children he had. That was embarrassing. That now would work!
Most memorable moment: Too many. It would be combined, [Frank Sinatra,] Malcolm X, [former South African President Nelson Mandela], the seven presidents. But if I were pinned to the wall, if would probably be Sinatra only because he didn’t do interviews and Jackie Gleason got him for me and he spent three hours with me. And I did his last interview, his television interview, before he died. So I’d say Sinatra.
Three words to sum up the current Congress: Bizarre. Unwieldy. Troublesome.
How has D.C. changed over the years: I just interviewed [former Secretary of State] James Baker and it was wonderful listening to what he had to say. And I agree with him completely. The Washington of the past was civilized; it understood that you had to come to the middle, that it’s required that you give up something while the other side gives up something.
And now you have a harsh Congress. And Baker also said another thing I agree with, that the principle sorts of news is no longer the great newspaper, or that we don’t have Edward R. Murrow, we don’t have Walter Cronkite. The network news, while all three are very well done ,they’re only 22 minutes and they do a lot of tabloid stuff or silly stuff. “The new hippopotamus at the zoo” as a kicker story, Ed Murrow would never have done that.
And another thing that Baker said that I agree with, you have so much harshness that’s in the Congress but also in your cable news, the 24-hour news networks. CNN is kind of in the middle and running documentaries most of the time. MSNBC is a wing of the Democratic Party. Fox is the Republican Party. So if that’s your main source of news, you’re not getting the news. It’s sad. I always thought more would be better, so the fact that we have 500 television stations doesn’t mean that we have better information.
If I had a theme song, it would be: “The Way You Look Tonight”
I have a fear of: Death. I don’t believe there’s an afterlife. I’m probably an atheist, I guess. I think I’d like to be frozen and that would be the only hope that I could come back. My wife says, “What if you come back 200 years from now? You won’t know anybody?” I say, “I’ll make new friends.” [laughs] So I fear death. … I’m going to be 82 in November.
My father died when he was 46. I’ve had a heart attack, had heart surgery. I’ve gone through a lot, yet I feel wonderful. But the thought of not existing terrifies me. I think it’s the fact that I’m so curious. Who’s going to win the World Series? Who will be the next president? I don’t want to be gone.
I still want to know what’s going on in the world. I wake up curious. I go to bed curious. You don’t want to sit down next to me on a plane. No matter what your profession or business, I’m riveting questions at you.
Would you actually be frozen? It’s very logical to me. They take the body right away. They put it in a compression chamber, they inject you with a fluid that keeps certain things working even while you’re dead, it keeps blood flowing and the like. They get you into a chamber. And they don’t chop your head off, that’s not true, that’s just a rumor.
And you go into a tube and it’s in Arizona and New Hampshire. And if you died of lung cancer, and they cure it, and they can unfreeze you, and take away your lung cancer, why not? It’s better than embalming and then being put in the ground. Or being burned. Come on, ew.
So this is something you’re exploring? I don’t know why everyone doesn’t. You put it in your insurance policy. It costs about $130,000, so if you have enough insurance that your family’s going to be alright, your insurance company covers it.
Something that few know about you: That I’m very funny. I do a comedy tour. Last year, I toured about 14 cities. If I didn’t go into broadcasting, I’d be a standup comic. I love to make people laugh.
Biggest pet peeve: Racism. I can’t understand it. I’ve never had an answer to it. When I arrived in Miami to break into broadcasting the first thing I saw was a colored water fountain. I drank out of it. It was very good water.
I’ve asked the question, all you’re dealing with here is color. A lot of white people I know, they buy Coppertone. Why do they want to be darker? It’s an absurdity to me. Prejudice is an absurdity to me. To pre-judge equals stupidity.
Best advice given: In interviews, I never learned a thing when I was talking. Too many interviews I see today you turn on the channel and they’re talking. The guest should be talking.
No. 1 item on your bucket list: You see, I’m afraid of death so I don’t have a bucket list. Alright, before I’m frozen: to go to every major league ballpark. I’m a baseball freak and I’ve been to a lot of them, but I’d like to see everyone one. I probably have 18 left.
Would you continue your career if you were unfrozen? They’ll be shows from the moon. My God, would we travel electronically? Don’t you wonder about those things? What is the future going to be like? Yes, I’d want to interview people. I’d want to interview the guy from Mars. And go to other planets and ask questions.
This story has been updated.