CNN legend Larry King has interviewed virtually every major big-shot celebrity and politician known on earth, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Richard Nixon. He estimates he’s gabbed with 50,000 people, enough to fill Turner Field.
So now the tables are turned. King has written a memoir “My Remarkable Journey” and is willing to be grilled himself to promote the book.
“You’re lucky,” he said by phone from Los Angeles earlier this week. “This is the first day of the tour. I’ve done book tours in the past and by the end, the last thing you want to talk about is the book. Ask me about Tiddlywinks. Ask me about what airplane I flew in! I never liked much talking about myself.”
But here he is gabbing about the man who hired him at CNN, how his show has changed over the years and how tough marriage can be.
AJC: Do you think Ted Turner misses CNN?
King: I think he’s very sad. He loves his restaurant business. He loves hunting and his ranches. But he misses running a broadcast company.
AJC: How has CNN changed since Ted left?
King: It’s more corporate. But they’ve all been very nice to me. I’m happy with the bosses here. Ted, though, was one of those special guys. You don’t run into many Teds in your life.
AJC: It’s been 24 years. How long do you want to keep doing “Larry King Live”?
King: I’m 75. I’m signed through 2011. I don’t feel 75. I feel young. Yesterday, I was talking with [CNN U.S. President] Jon Klein. We were at a Yankee game together. I asked him what happens after 2011. He said, ‘Look — if you still feel as good as you do, keep it as long as you want.’ I have no designs on leaving. I’ll never retire as long as it goes well.
AJC: What’s it like looking at yourself 20 years ago or hearing your old radio shows?
King: I only do that when they do a celebratory tape. I weighed more. In some cases, I looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. I smoked a lot back in the day. I haven’t smoked in 22 years. I had a little rougher edge in my voice. I didn’t take care of myself, never exercised. I had a heart attack in 1987 that changed my life. I stopped smoking, started eating better.
AJC: Your show seems to do more celebrity stuff than it used to. What happened?
King: It’s a lot more tabloid now. That’s the nature of the beast. It’s more competitive. When we started, we were it. Now we have to do the murder stories, the missing children, the big Hollywood divorces. But I still get to do national events and politics. It’s more of a mix.
AJC: You squeeze more interviews in an hour now, too, right?
King: I did this thing with Elizabeth Edwards for a full hour. But now we usually do three segements, four different people. People have shorter attention spans. They have Twitter, all these things happening. If you do a full hour on somebody, you have to keep them riveted
AJC: Why a memoir now?
King: I was turning 75. People say to me that I have all these stories. I could have done a much longer book. But they wanted it out for Father’s Day. So we put it together in eight months.
AJC: What was the toughest part of your life to recall? The financial problems? The eight marriages?
King: I think it was my father’s death. That still impacts me. I was nine years old. I have a young son who turned 10 and another who’s about to turn nine. They’re both conscious that my father died young. My ten year old is always asking me, ‘How are you feeling? Why are you traveling so much? Take care of yourself!’ He doesn’t want to be without a father. He wants me to see him play baseball with the Dodgers.
AJC: You’re frank about getting arrested, about your faults.
King: As Don Rickles says, “What are they going to do to me now?” And if you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything!
AJC: What was it like writing about your marriages?
King: I”ve only been in love three times in my life. Why I got married more times than that, I don’t have a clear answer… But I don’t regret it. I don’t owe any previous wife anything. I’m friendly with them. Sometimes I question people who are married 50 years. How much compromise had they done? How much did they have to give up? Marriage is very difficult, a hard job.
AJC: Why do you approach interviews with minimal prep?
King: It’s more fun that way. It’s how I started interviewing people when I was young and it worked for me. It would drive me nuts preparing so much. I ask short questions. I hate people who show off and talk about themselves all the time and use the guest as as prop.
AJC: I’ve read you aren’t a big fan of the talk shows on the other networks, some which draw bigger audiences than you. [Sean Hannity at Fox News generally doubles King's numbers at 9 p.m. and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC will often beat him among 25 to 54 year olds. But it is true that King remains the top show on most days on CNN.]
King: We still draw a very good audience. We have a pretty good young fan base. I’m not a fan of those other shows. I don’t like it when the host counts more than the guest. I tend not to watch them and not because of ideology. My show is about the guest.
IF YOU GO
“An Evening With Larry King”
Marcus Jewish Community Center
Zaban Park campus
7 p.m, May 31
5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody
$35 to $65 for nonmembers.
Tickets can be purchased at www.atlantajcc.org, 678-812-4005 or at the MJCCA box office.