WASHINGTON — Oldest man who ever lived passed away today. Larry King. He was 137. He was shot to death by a jealous husband. Found with a 32-year-old former Playboy ‘Woman of the Year.’ He died instantly and it took six days to wipe the smile off his face.
That’s how 81-year-old Larry King wants to be remembered in his obituary, he jokes with WTOP, which broadcast his national overnight show for 18 years on AM Radio.
“I’ll tell you what’s great about radio,” King says, sporting his signature pair of suspenders. “Of all the mediums, it’s the most intimate and the most natural.”
King’s return to the Glass Enclosed Nerve Center came en route to a special ceremony Wednesday at the Newseum called “A Life in Broadcasting: A Conversation with Larry King,” highlighting his long career interviewing presidents, world leaders, entertainers, athletes and countless others.
“My motto was I never learned anything when I was talking. I never prepared a question in my life.”
Of all the interviews, Frank Sinatra left him the most star-struck.
“As a kid, I’d stand at the New York Paramount and wait in line to see him,” King says. “I think he was the greatest singer of my time. He did not do interviews. Jackie Gleason was a friend of mine … and got him for me. He did a three-hour interview with me, owing Gleason a favor.”
King says he was also awe-struck visiting the White House, interviewing every sitting president since Gerald Ford, as well as an interview with Richard Nixon after he left office.
“The best was Clinton, only because of [how] articulate he was and how knowledgeable he was about the world. He knew the vice president of Zimbabwe,” King says. “But all the presidents have been interesting. … You realize they all put their pants on one leg at a time.”
What was King’s reaction to President Nixon? “Dark, foreboding, but interesting.”
President Ford? “Just a regular guy.”
President Reagan? “Down home.”
The first President Bush? “Great guy.”
While King takes pride in the presidential interviews, there are a few he wishes he could take back.
“When I first started, I was just a kid, I was 22. I was doing a show at a restaurant in Miami Beach and a priest came on, and I asked him if he had children,” he says, shaking his head, laughing.
There are also interviews he wishes he could have done.
“I never interviewed Humphrey Bogart, never interviewed Clark Gable. I missed Dean Martin,” King says. “But I never got to interview Fidel Castro. I went down to Havana some years ago … and met some close advisers, but that never came about.”
The druthers are few and far between, considering all of the encounters during his prolific run on CNN’s “Larry King Live” from 1985-2010.
“My first day was their fifth anniversary,” King says. “I remember I didn’t know if I wanted to do it. I had my all-night radio show. I was doing color on Caps hockey, had to give that up. Had to give up going to Orioles baseball. … But I knew the first night, the first 15 minutes with Mario Cuomo, in a little studio in Georgetown on CNN, which wasn’t seen in Washington yet, I knew that show would click. And I don’t know why, but I remember saying on the first break, ‘Mario, this is gonna work.'”
He also does a baseball show for the Dodgers through Time Warner.
“They gave up Ramirez and Kemp, two of the best right-handed hitters in baseball, but they got a good double-play combination, they got great pitching, and I think it is a weak National League West,” King says. “I think the Dodgers should cruise in the West now, but then you come up with the Washington Nationals, who I think might be the best team in baseball. Hard to argue they’re not.”
King has been a Dodgers fan since growing up in Brooklyn, where he cheered the Brooklyn Dodgers. King says he was actually there when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947.
“When he came on the field, we knew we were part of history,” says King, who interviewed Robinson twice. “When I interviewed Martin Luther King, I introduced him by saying, ‘The founder of the Civil Rights Movement,’ and he said, ‘Let me correct you. The founder of the Civil Rights Movement is Jackie Robinson.’ So the Dodgers were implanted in me, and I always give them credit for that.”
King hopes for the day his National League team faces his American League team for the title.
“My wish is a Dodger-Oriole World Series, because I love both teams,” King says. “[It would] go seven games, and the seventh game is Baltimore is snowed out. And there’s such a tremendous snowstorm that lasts for days and days and days, and Commissioner Manfred declares a tied World Series. We will never play a seventh game, and the Orioles and Dodgers will be declared co-champions.”
From sports to politics to entertainment, Larry King truly has done it all.
So what’s left on the bucket list?
“The only thing I’ve never done is a Broadway play,” says King, whose favorite show is “Guys and Dolls.” “I’d like to do it, but just for a couple months. … A Neil Simon play, probably.”
Until then, the Newseum event will have to do. Fittingly, that very museum was created by Allen Neuharth, who worked with King at The Miami Herald before publishing his “My Two Cents” columns for USA TODAY, which Jerry Seinfeld credits for inadvertently “inventing” Twitter’s short format.
“I pinch myself everyday,” King says. “I’m just a little Jewish kid from Brooklyn who wanted to be on the radio. That’s all I ever wanted to do was be on the radio. I had no idea there’d be a CNN or television or print or books or movies, all of that. … I can’t fathom it.”
Now, his famous set, microphone and suspenders will be etched in time at The Newseum.
“When they start calling you an icon and a legend, that means you’re old. There’s no 28-year-old legend,” King says, leaving us with a joke. “The toughest thing about aging, as Carl Reiner says, ‘You know what I have? I have short-term memory loss. (Repeating) I have short-term memory loss.'”