In Memoriam: Larry King

Legendary broadcast veteran who has funded student scholarships at SMPA, dies at 87.

Larry King
Larry King (r) in conversation with former SMPA Director Frank Sesno at the school in 2010. (William Atkins/GW Today)
January 25, 2021

Larry King, the legendary television and radio show host, master of an interview style he called “infotainment” in conversation with thousands of newsmakers and celebrities over the years from presidents to ballet dancers, politicians and athletes, screen actors, writers and convicted murderers, died Saturday. He was 87 years old.

His death was announced by Ora TV, the digital network founded by Mr. King in 2012 that carried his current media ventures “Larry King Now” and “Politicking With Larry King.”

Mr. King was a generous benefactor to the GW School of Media and Public Affairs and a dedicated friend to the university, SMPA Director Silvio Waisbord said in a statement to the school. “His legacy will live on in supporting dozens of students since the Larry King Scholarships that were established in 2000 for rising seniors... We will thoroughly miss him.”

Mr. King received an honorary doctorate from GW in 1995. GW Libraries Special Collections Research Center holds the Mutual Broadcasting System Inc. collection, which includes  audio recordings of the Larry King Show. The collection, received in 2001, primarily consists of cassette and reel-to-reel tapes, as well as some supporting materials such as scripts. The collection is open for researchers.

CNN’s “Larry King Live,” which began in 1985 and was carried by the network for 25 years, was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for being “the longest running television show hosted by the same person, on the same network and in the same time slot.” The Associated Press estimates that over the course of his career he conducted more than 50,000 interviews with, among others, prominent guests such as former President Donald Trump, years before he was elected, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, then-First Lady HiIlary Clinton, singer-songwriter Prince and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

“They are all human,” Mr. King said during a George Washington School of Media and Public Affairs Conversation Series when he was asked if he was ever nervous interviewing famous and powerful people. “A president or a ballet dancer or a screen actor or a mayor, they all put their pants on one leg at a time. They all think about things like other people think about.” 

He was the recipient of numerous awards, including two Peabodys, an Emmy and 10 Cable ACE awards.

The key to his success as an interviewer was no big secret, Mr. King said, “You have to be yourself. I don’t like to embarrass people. I like to learn.”

Mr. King got his start in broadcasting as a disc jockey at a radio station in Miami in 1957 where he was paid $50 a week.

He began to cultivate a national following on his radio program “The Larry King Show,” which aired live on the Mutual Broadcasting System across the country from midnight to 5:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. He told GW students in 2012 that the show was his favorite because it was live.

“Things would happen,” he said. An open phone segment of the show took calls from listeners and had a following among airline pilots, medical students and others up late at night, including once, President Bill Clinton and another caller from Salt Lake City who whispered throughout the call, he said, because he was in the process of robbing a house. Mr. King was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1996.

Paul Wahlbeck, dean of GW's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said he appreciates King's longstanding ties to the university, the CCAS and SMPA. "His support of our students through the Larry King Scholarship will have a lasting impact and is especially meaningful," he said.   




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