Larry King on life after CNN, taking an Alzheimer's test and the joke he tells about St. Petersburg
After 25 years hearing legions of comics tackle his omnipresent baritone, it is downright spooky to hear Larry King’s distinctive voice asking his maid to find the remote control.
But these are the conversations you have when you’re semi-retired. And King joined those ranks about three months ago, departing CNN’s flagship show after 25 years.
In truth, the 77-year-old broadcast pioneer seems to be working harder than ever: commenting on the death of longtime friend Elizabeth Taylor; negotiating a spot on the hip news satire The Daily Show; organizing a touring one-man show; preparing to host the 70th annual Peabody Awards and cracking jokes about his successor at CNN that has left observers unsure just how much he respects new host Piers Morgan.
Reached in California, the man once known as Lawrence Harvey Zeiger was preparing for an appearance Sunday at a fund-raiser for the Chabad Jewish Center of Greater St. Petersburg. Fans can still buy tickets to the center's VIP reception for King, starting at 5 p.m. in the Renaissance Vinoy Resort; admission is $180. Tickets to the fundraiser gala, which will also feature broadcaster Roy Firestone, cost $85. The event's auction and cocktails begin at 6 p.m., the program starts at 7:30 p.m. Call (727) 344-4900 or visit the center's website here.
Deggans: When news broke you were considering a job at the Daily Show, I thought: don’t they usually make fun of people like you?
King: Well, I’ll be making fun of myself, too (laughter). Jon Stewart called me about 10 days ago, asked if I’d like to be a regular contributor every two weeks. I’m sure it’ll happen in April. I’d be a contributor, sort of like Lewis Black. I’m gonna do a takeoff on my old column for USA Today called Nobody Asked Me. I would just say things like, ‘If the banker’s got a moustache, you’re not gonna get the loan.’ Bob Costas used to make fun of it. A lot of the magazines made fun of it.”
I also hear you’ll be doing a comedy tour in May? You know, that’s about the same time Charlie Sheen will be on the road.
Wow, me and Charlie? Well, I don’t know what Charlie’s going to do, but in my case, instead of just getting up and talking in front of a lectern, this is gonna be more of a produced show. There’ll be backdrops and videos and lot of walking around, some added music. It’ll be a full 80-minute show. My nephew, Scott Zeiger, who is a Broadway producer – he produced The Producers, in fact – he put it together (King says a Tampa stop is scheduled Jan. 21 at the Straz Center in Tampa).”
You’ve made some spicy comments about your successor, Piers Morgan; do you regret leaving CNN?
“I’ve only met Piers twice. I was on his show. I had a good time. I think he’s fine. What I said was that they made a mistake in promoting it like he was gonna be dangerous and water-cooler stuff you’ve never seen, and that’s not true. It’s a good talk show. The only answer that got mixed up with it was somebody asked me the other day, do you miss it? And I said, well, when you’ve got a thing like Japan or Libya or Egypt, of course I miss it. You’re right in the middle of the action, you’re asking questions from your perch and you got reporters everywhere, that’s just … there’s no better job in the world. So when I have those occasions, of course I miss it.”
Didn’t you compare watching him to seeing a car drive over a cliff?
“The joke was about leaving the job; it’s like mixed emotions. When you got Charlie Sheen or the Kevorkians or … not the Kevorkians, the girls …
Yeah, Kardashians. I don’t miss that. It’s like watching your mother-in-law go over the cliff in your new car. How do you feel? It’s an up-and-down feeling.
I hear you’ve already scheduled some of your CNN specials and you take an Alzheimer’s test in one of them.
“I did all the Alzheimer’s tests. They had ‘em done on me. You will see those tests, and then we interview people, famous people, who’ve had Alzheimer’s in their family, like Angie Dickinson, Ron Reagan, a whole host of them; we’re trying to understand more about Alzheimer’s, how you can test for it. Are there any things preventable about it? Is it genetic? That’s May 1. The second special is gonna be Johnny Depp, who you never see. The third special is gonna be baseball, talking about fathers and sons. It’ll be me and my sons, along with baseball players whose sons also play. And then there’ll be one more.
Your sons play baseball?
“I’m one of their coaches … I wasn’t a good ballplayer but I know when a pitcher has to bring his arm strength down, what a catcher should be looking for and how to do signs.
I think it’d be kinda frightening to hear your voice yelling from first base.
I wasn’t even coaching and I was thrown out of a game as a fan. Umpire threw me out. Told me to go back to CNN. (laughs) You know, you get more involved for your children than you’re involved for the Dodgers.
I know you started your career in Miami; how did Florida shape your later success?
“Miami was my beginning, in 1957. It took me into interviewing. I thought I’d be a sportscaster. Paul Newman once said to me that any successful person who doesn’t include the word “luck” in discussing their life is a liar. Well, I was lucky to ago to Miami, where there was no union, so there were a lot of jobs open. I don’t think I’m any better than I was when I was in Miami. I lived in South Beach when I first came there, paid $70 a month. Now it’s $70 for breakfast (laughs).
There’s that comedy again.
I used to make jokes about your place. I used to say, you know, one of the fascinating things about Miami Beach, it’s the only city in America with the population over 60,000 and no cemetery. So what happens is, when people die here, they put ‘em on a park bench in St. Petersburg and nobody knows the difference. (laughter) I guess that’s not true anymore.