Live at the Palace
Larry King will be stopping by for a one-man show of behind-the-scenes scoop and comedy. He’ll even take questions!
Is aging a state of mind? The answer for Larry King, the indefatigable talk-show host, is yes. Despite turning off the lights on his CNN show last year, after a half-century in broadcasting, King has refused to join the shuffleboard circuit. “I still feel young,” he says, “so it’s very hard to accept how old I am.” Which may
explain why he is now in the midst of Larry King Standing Up, a one-man show that will hit the Palace on February 2.
Sharing highlights from his fifty-four- year career in broadcasting, including the dishy stories behind the stories, the ninety-minute show could be seen as the victory lap of a distinguished career. But it comes with a key twist. Instead of peppering guests while hunched behind a baguette-sized mike, as was his wont on CNN for twenty-five years, King will now be in the hot seat himself: Audience members are encouraged to fire their own questions at the intimacy-prone interlocutor. There will be a few jokes too.
“I would have done stand-up if I wasn’t in broadcasting,” says King in his trademark gravelly baritone. “I love the concept of standing on a stage with no script to help you and no play, no songs to sing, just funny stuff.”
But it wasn’t always a barrel of laughs growing up as Lawrence Harvey Zeiger in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Older brother Irving died of a burst appendix before King was born. And father Edward, an Austrian immigrant, died of a heart attack at forty-seven in the New Jersey defense plant where he worked. His struggling family had to rely on public assistance to make ends meet, says King, who remembers using welfare money to buy his first pair of eyeglasses. “I’ve never forgotten that I was poor.” Connecticut may not have been too far away, but in the 1940s, it seemed like another universe. “We imagined it as rich,” he jokes. “We were incapable of saying the word Westport.”
That impression would change decades later when King twice got a chance to interview sports great Jackie Robinson—once on TV and another time for his radio show—at Robinson’s Stamford home. It was memorable, King says, because he was such a huge fan, having seen Robinson break baseball’s color barrier when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Before he made the big time, King was admittedly not a great student; he also skipped college, though he was innately curious: “I always wondered what kind of person would become a bus driver, so I would ask bus drivers about it.”
He continued to ask questions, and soon after arriving in Miami in 1957, he scored a prime morning deejay slot on what’s now known as WMBM. Soon he upped the star power of his guests with a one-on-one interview with music legend Bobby Darin. Later, foreign leaders, scientists and CEOs would be in regular rotation on his shows, especially on CNN, where his final show aired a year ago. Piers Morgan subsequently filled his former time slot.
Indeed, King quickly points out that he’s grilled seven presidents and numerous high-ranking world leaders, though, regrettably, never a pope or Cuban leader Fidel Castro, despite personal entreaties from King while he was in Havana in 2009. Still, despite sit-downs with headline-making subjects, King’s schedule clearly favored entertainers—actors, models, rock stars, producers and athletes. But one did get away, in spite of repeated requests over the years: Jack Nicholson.
While trying to imitate Nicholson’s famous drawl, King says: “I watch ya but if I do ya I gotta do other people. Don’t take it personal.”
Talk of such a celebrity powerhouse brings up critics who have called him out for lobbing the mushiest of softball questions, but King says he never claimed to be Edward R. Murrow. “I never viewed myself as a journalist,” he freely admits, “but more of an infotainer.”
King “was definitely no Mike Wallace,” the tough-edged 60 Minutes journalist, says Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. But he did get many people to talk to him. “He got an awful lot of people, from the sublime to the ridiculous,” Thompson says. In fact, King’s best legacy may be his vast catalog: “The number of interviews that he has left on tapes, I expect researchers will be using for decades if not centuries to come.”
Last fall, in a timely valedictory, King received a lifetime achievement Emmy. “I hope that I’ve added to our knowledge of the culture in an entertaining fashion,” he says, before seeming to catch himself. “I don’t want to be silly, but I think that through me, people learned more about society.”