Larry King retired from cable news, but he's still talking. And talking.
At 77, the former CNN mainstay has embarked on a second career as a stand-up comedian. And he recently wrote a new book, Truth Be Told, in which he reflects on his years interviewing celebrities, politicians and other famous figures.
Born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger in Brooklyn, N.Y., he began his career as a disc jockey in Miami; while hosting a talk show from Pumpernik's Restaurant, King landed his first celebrity interview, with singer Bobby Darin. After several years in Miami, King went national on syndicated radio. In 1985, he signed on with the fledgling CNN network to host Larry King Live, on which he would conduct more than 4,000 interviews, including a 1995 sit-down with Marlon Brando, in which the actor kissed him right on the mouth.
Shortly after signing off last December, King hit the road on a comedy tour playing to sold-out crowds around the United States. He spoke to us earlier this week from New York.
Truth Be Told is the 16th book you've written. Why another?
I didn't know it was 16 until I was halfway through this one, but there were a lot of things I wanted to put down on paper. I had never publicly discussed that I had prostate cancer, and I wanted to set the record straight on my near-divorce last year. And then I wanted to talk about all the people I've met over the years.
Did mentally rewinding more than 4,000 interviews give you fresh appreciation of your career?
I still pinch myself every day. I still can't believe all the things that happened to me over the years. The people I've met, the places I've been, the ups and downs, my kids. At times, I look at me as someone else: Who is that guy?
How did you adjust to suddenly not being on TV five nights a week?
It was weird, no question. I was used to going on at 6 p.m. L.A. time every night, and suddenly I wasn't. The plus part was I was able to coach my boys' baseball teams. I spend more time with my children and there's more of a family life.
What do you miss most?
Taking part in events going on in the world now. When they reported the killing of Osama bin Laden, I wanted to be on the air. Gadhafi, I know Gadhafi. Mubarak, I knew him. Leon Panetta, the new U.S. Secretary of Defence, is a friend of 20 years. There are times when something's happening and I want to get up off the chair, because I like being in the mix.
What don't you miss?
I don't miss British royal weddings. I don't miss the Kardashians and the Paris Hiltons. There's nothing wrong with them; it's just that I think I've outgrown that. But you still have to cover those people in modern television – too much of television has become tabloid.
Does the volume of coverage given to a story like Congressman Anthony Weiner this past week make you a little glad to be out?
That's an embarrassing story, but it's news. If a movie star does it, I don't give a damn, but if someone is a public servant, then it's a story. If he has embarrassed himself in front of his constituency, who pay his salary, then it's the public's business. And now with the news that his wife is pregnant, it's just become sad.
Would you have covered the Weiner story?
Oh, we'd be doing it every night. I wouldn't have enjoyed it, but I don't own the camera. I understand the needs of the business.
Are you still a news junkie?
Every day, I still act like I'm going on that night. I watch CNN and other networks and I read five or six newspapers every day. I watch the nightly news on one of the U.S. networks. I watch Piers Morgan when I can. A lot of times I can't, because I'm busy with kids and stuff, and I have season tickets to the Dodgers. I have a full life, with a little piece missing.
How do you think Morgan is doing in your old timeslot?
We're very different. He involves himself. I always felt I was removed from the story. I didn't have an agenda, and I never used the word “I.” That was my rule. I asked short questions and listened to the answers. Piers tends to be more involved – “I saw you do this” and so forth. That's not a case of he's wrong and I'm right. Everybody has their own style.
Why stand-up comedy?
There's no bigger thrill than stepping on a stage and making people laugh. It's orgasmic. It's a natural high. All my life, I've loved laughing and comics.
But not, as revealed in your book, Bob Hope.
Woody Allen puts me on the floor, Henny Youngman killed me, Milton Berle was hilarious, but Hope's style just didn't make me laugh.
Were you nervous going into your new career?
No. I was nervous when I first started in radio, but I got over it by realizing that the world will go on no matter what happens. I know the material is good and funny. I assume the people come because they know me, so I'm a step ahead when I walk out on stage. I'm more excited than nervous. Frank Sinatra told me he felt the same way. Right before he went on stage, there was always that little bump of: Will I have it? But it's just a moment that passes.
Any plans to retire?
Like Milton Berle once said, “Retire to what?” The human condition still fascinates me. I still want to know what's going to happen tomorrow and wonder what my next challenge will be. I'm a child of wonderment.
This interview has been condensed and edited.