Everybody came to Larry’s.
Over the course of its 25-year run, which began in 1985, Larry King Live on CNN got the “gets” that no other talk show could. Aired five nights a week, Larry King Live in its heyday was the centerpiece of ratings champion CNN’s prime time line up. If you had something to plug, Larry King Live was on your itinerary. If you were embroiled in a scandal, you proffered mea culpas to Larry. Presidents, newsmakers, authors, Hollywood legends, and contemporary A-listers in all fields sat for hour-long interviews. At his best, King—who has died at the age of 87—was masterful at creating moments that would be fodder for discussion at the workplace water cooler (the 20th century equivalent of going viral).
Bill Maher once called King the “Mickey Mantle of broadcasters.” It’s true that he struggled at the plate in his final years—on one show that reunited former Beatles Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, King at one point called Ringo “George”—but still, nobody did it like King. Below, a representative sampling of 10 memorable interviews that display the Peabody Award-winner and Hall of Fame broadcaster’s versatility.
Frank Sinatra (1988)
Frank Sinatra’s last major interview before his death 10 years later finds the Chairman of the Board in “chat” mode. Sinatra is at once easygoing and pugnacious, calling out the writers of “kiss-and-tell” books as “pimps and whores” (he’s looking at you, Kitty Kelly!) He also talks about the re-release of The Manchurian Candidate and swears on his mother’s soul that he still got stage fright.
Elizabeth Taylor (1993)
“A rare one on one with a rare beauty…and she’ll take your phone calls.” Hollywood screen goddess Elizabeth Taylor’s first appearance with Larry King was this two-hour special broadcast on TNT. In 2000, the Queen would knight her as Dame Elizabeth—but here, she is an old school “broad” who reflects on her legendary career with an earthy candor. When King asks her about her ex-husband Richard Burton not getting his full due in Hollywood, and whether he took roles that were beneath him, she responds, “That’s bullshit,” and indignantly adds, “I think he did fairly well.”
Marlon Brando (1994)
Marlon Brando chose Larry King Live as the sole interview to hype his memoir, Songs My Mother Taught Me. Unlike his 1972 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, Brando is not focused on the plight of Native-Americans, but he is just as elusive and inscrutable. When asked if he would rather have been a musician, Brando replies, “If the dog hadn’t stopped to pee, he might have caught the rabbit.” Before Brando bids, “Goodbye,” he engages Larry in an off-key duet on “Got a Date with an Angel” and plants a kiss on King’s mouth. Two years later, he returned to Larry King Live and caused a firestorm when he proclaimed that “Hollywood is run by Jews.”
Jerry Seinfeld (2007)
Jerry Seinfeld appeared on Larry King Live to promote his animated feature Bee Movie, in which King had a voice cameo. At one point, Seinfeld appeared to take mock (?) umbrage when King attempted to clarify whether Seinfeld or the network ended his NBC TV series. Seinfeld pushed back hard. “You think I got cancelled?” he challenged King. When a flustered King responded, “Don’t most shows go down a little?” Jerry hit back, “So do most people, also.”
The O.J. Simpson Saga
“If we had God booked and O.J. was available, we’d move God,” Larry King said on October 5, 1995. The day before, he controversially took a mid-broadcast phone call on his show from the disgraced former Hall of Fame football player who that week had been acquitted of killing his ex-wife and her friend Ronald Goldman. “He wanted to get a point across, and we’re the place he used,” King rationalized. Beginning on June 17, 1994, when Larry King Live cut to live coverage of the highway odyssey of the iconic white Ford Bronco, King owned the story that gripped America. A reported two-thirds of the nation’s television households watched that night. The first thing that Simpson said when he called in was to thank King for being “fair.”
Carrie Prejean (2009)
Carrie Prejean’s story made her a Larry King Live natural. She was a beauty pageant winner stripped of her crown for vague reasons. Was it breach of contract issues? Was it her opposition to same-sex marriage, as she revealed during the nationally-televised Miss USA pageant? Or was it the partial nudes she had taken when she was a model that were then posted on the Internet? Donald Trump, who owned the Miss USA pageant, defended her (“In some cases, the pictures were lovely”). Larry asked her why she had settled her lawsuit against the pageant officials. She called his question “inappropriate.” They went back and forth until she finally removed her microphone and announced she was walking off the show. And then she just sat there.
Paris Hilton (2007)
ABC and NBC each chased first generation reality TV star Paris Hilton for her plum first televised interview following her release from prison for a parole violation. Larry got it. Unlike David Letterman, who felt compelled to apologize to Hilton for his own contemptuous interview of her, King remained professional and an accommodating host when Hilton said things like, “I have a new outlook on life.” When King asked why she felt so many people followed her, she replied, “I have no idea.”
Al Gore and Ross Perot (1993)
It is a testament to Larry King’s platform that then-Vice President Al Gore and billionaire Ross Perot chose Larry King Live to debate the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement. According to Time magazine, support for NAFTA was at 34 percent prior to the broadcast and roughly 57 percent afterward. It passed in the House that week. Such exchanges as Perot’s admonition of Gore’s perceived hogging the mic (“You haven’t quit talking”) surely gave Dana Carvey fresh material for her peerless Perot imitation. Just over 16 million people watched, then the highest ratings in CNN history.
Michael Moore and Dr. Sanjay Gupta (2007)
The release of a Michael Moore documentary is invariably accompanied by questions about his filmmaking methods and charges of fact-fudging. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the chief medical correspondent for CNN, took a scalpel to Moore’s then-newest film, Sicko, an autopsy of America’s health care system. Moore went on King’s show to defend his film and challenge Dr. Gupta. Drinking game: Take a shot every time Michael Moore says a variant of, “There you go again; that’s not true.”
Lady Gaga (2010)
During King’s final year on air, international superstar and style icon Lady Gaga made an appearance. She came dressed in not one of her Gaga-esque outfits, but one that emulated King himself, including his signature suspenders. “Should I call you Larry or should I call you King Larry?” she opened. King asked the obvious questions (“How did you come up with Lady Gaga?”) but also pointedly asked about her health issues (“Do you have Lupus?”). A game Gaga gave him her family history with the disease; she also debuted her new video for “Alejandro.”
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