Broadcast legend Larry King dies at 87; WTOP shares obituary in his own words

Larry King chats with WTOP’s Jason Fraley during a visit to D.C. in 2015. (WTOP/Jason Fraley)
WTOP's Jason Fraley remembers Larry King

“Oldest man who ever lived passed away today. Larry King. He was 137.”

That’s how Larry King jokingly predicted his own obituary during a 2015 visit to WTOP, which broadcast his national overnight radio show for 18 years on AM radio.

He died at age 87 at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, where he was admitted for COVID-19 complications in December, after previously surviving a heart attack and stroke, not to mention the deaths of two of his children in recent years.

The cause of death was not provided.

“I’ll tell you what’s great about radio,” King said, 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 at the now-defunct 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 said. “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 said he was also awe-struck visiting the White House to interview sitting presidents.

“The best was [Bill] Clinton, only because of how articulate he was and how knowledgeable he was about the world. He knew the vice president of Zimbabwe,” King said. “But all the presidents have been interesting. … You realize they all put their pants on one leg at a time.”

What was his reaction to President Richard Nixon?

“Dark, foreboding, but interesting.”

President Gerald Ford?

“Just a regular guy.”

President Ronald Reagan?

“Down home.”

President George H.W. Bush?

“Great guy.”

King with Edward Bennett Williams
Larry King with Edward Bennett Williams some time between 1984 and 1985 at a remote from the Jefferson Hotel. (Courtesy Pat Piper)

While King took pride in the presidential interviews, there were a few mulligans he wanted.

“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 said, shaking his head, laughing.

There were also interviews he wished he could have done.

“I never interviewed Humphrey Bogart, never interviewed Clark Gable, I missed Dean Martin,” King said. “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.”

His druthers were 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 said. “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.'”

More recently, he hosted “Larry King Now” and “Politicking With Larry King” on Ora TV and RT America. He also hosted a baseball show for the Los Angeles Dodgers through Time Warner.

King became a Dodgers fan growing up in Brooklyn, where he attended the historic game when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947.

“When he came on the field, we knew we were part of history,” said King, who later 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.”

King hoped for the day that his two favorite teams would play for the championship.

“My wish is a Dodger-Oriole World Series, because I love both teams,” King said. “[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 did it all.

“The only thing I’ve never done is a Broadway play,” said 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.”

Showbiz took notice, as Jerry Seinfeld credited King’s “My Two Cents” columns in USA Today for inadvertently inventing Twitter’s short format.

“I pinch myself everyday,” King said. “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 microphone and suspenders are etched in the annals of pop culture.

“When they start calling you an icon and a legend, that means you’re old,” King said. “There’s no 28-year-old legend. 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.'”

Listen to our full conversation below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Larry King in 2015 (Full Interview)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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