Larry King: The End of an Era
I first appeared on Larry King’s show on CNN over a decade ago, back when I was still appearing regularly on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He graciously would bring me on to talk about a book I had written, or have me help analyze some breaking news event or a tragic or controversial event that had taken place somewhere in the world. I was a pretty frequent guest, and last week, I had the honor — and I mean it was truly an honor — to appear on his final CNN show.
It was a star-studded lineup featuring everyone from President Barack Obama, to former President Bill Clinton to Regis Philbin. Bill Maher and Ryan Seacrest were there, as were Donald Trump, Suze Orman, Barbara Walters, and of course, CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Tony Bennett sang a tribute to Larry. The three major network anchors — Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer and Brian Williams — made a rare joint appearance to bid their farewells. And, by the way, if you want to get a look at the next great King, be sure to watch the end of the show where he introduces his kids, Chance and Cannon. I especially want you to watch Cannon, all of 10 years old, do an impersonation of his father. As I said on the show, “I’ll tell you what, we have met the talent here in the family.”
You probably don’t have to be told about Larry’s significance in the history of broadcasting. Between his radio career and his stint on television, he’s done about 50,000 interviews. He’s been doing his show at CNN for the last 25 years. Name anyone famous or infamous, and that person has probably been on Larry’s show. He was able to get most any guest he wanted to get — from presidents to celebrities to UFO experts.
The fact was that Larry’s show was a comfortable, safe place for people to come and basically say what they wanted. The conversation between him and a guest was unhurried. Larry usually asked one-sentence questions that cut through everything and got to the heart of the matter. Television critics sometimes said his questions were softballs — but night after night, he pulled things out of people that no other interviewer could. Just think about the night he got the elusive Marlon Brando to appear on his set, and it all ended with the actor planting a thank-you smack on Larry’s lips. Or how about the 1993 show when he persuaded Vice President Al Gore and Ross Perot to appear together for a debate? That one show drew 20 million viewers, CNN’s largest audience ever for a regularly scheduled program.
As I told him on his final show, I was simply amazed at his ability to hang up his suspenders and walk away from the spotlight with such grace. The fact is that all of us in this business will someday have to walk away. As I said that night, “We’ll all be going home. We’ll all run out of things to say.” I only can hope that when my time comes, I will say my goodbyes the way he did — with such dignity and compassion.
Much of the cable television landscape has changed since Larry first arrived at CNN. It’s now mostly dominated by very partisan, very aggressive and very opinionated hosts. Larry was not among today’s current cadre of “gotcha journalists” who embrace more of an ambush interview strategy than an information-gathering approach. Yet he still seemed to bring out the information needed to understand a story.
Larry will be missed. I will continue to see him, of course, as we are friends and live not far apart. But his antique microphone that sat so prominently on his desk will be retired. As I sat with Larry in the last minutes of the last show on the last night that he ever would sit at that desk behind that mic, I felt a sense of history. It’s a history I so appreciate getting to be even a small part of.
By the way, if you missed his last show, you can look at highlights here.