Thursday, May 13, 2021

‘I Never Learned Anything While I Was Talking’

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Former longtime CNN host Larry King died Saturday at age 87, ending decades of interviews and quotes from his legendary career. He conducted more than 30,000 conversations with newsmakers ranging from U.S. presidents to Hollywood icons during his 65-year-long TV and radio broadcast career. His style and talent made him a natural when it came to asking questions and delivering memorable remarks.

King, who was married eight times to seven different women, often quipped with reporters and other members of the news media, telling the Associated Press after one divorce: “I’m not good at marriage, but I’m a great boyfriend.”

Although his producers say he never over-prepared for an interview, it was his open-minded and curious nature which led to successful interviews with reclusive figures such as Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.

“When I was five years old I would lie in bed, look at the radio, and I wanted to be on the radio, I don’t know why,” King wrote in his 2009 autobiography.

Having led his namesake CNN TV show, Larry King Live, from 1985 until 2010, he once said of his interview style: “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening. I never learned anything while I was talking.”

“I don’t pretend to know it all,” he also said in a 1995 Associated Press interview. “Not, ‘What about Geneva or Cuba?′ I ask, ‘Mr. President, what don’t you like about this job?′ Or ‘What’s the biggest mistake you made?′ That’s fascinating.”

King emphasized a wide-eyed “everyman” approach to interviews that allowed his guests to relax. He often criticized pundits who sought to corner the people on their programs.

“All I’ve tried to do is ask the best questions I could think of, listen to the answers and then follow up. I’ve never not followed up. I don’t attack anybody—that’s not my style—but I follow up,” King told the Chicago Tribune. ‘Bill O’Reilly is not my cup of tea.'”

He interviewed every president between Richard Nixon and Donald Trump during his broadcast career. But King’s “everyman” approach to interviews did occasionally backfire, as was evident during a notorious 1997 interview with comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The CNN host appeared not to know whether Seinfeld had been fired by NBC or chose to retire his sitcom at the height of its popularity.

“I was the No. 1 show in television, Larry,” replied Seinfeld, appearing shocked at King’s failure to prepare for the interview. “Do you know who I am?”

Many of the New York City native’s most famous quotes or one-liners call for modesty— even if the once heavy gambler and three-pack-a-day cigarette smoker didn’t live such a life himself. He suffered a heart attack in 1987 and a near-fatal stroke in 2019.

“You make your own luck, luck is the residue of design,” King wrote in his 2009 autobiography, My Remarkable Journey.

Newsweek reached out to representatives through Ora Media and the King family for any additional remarks Saturday afternoon.

GettyImages-876839802
Larry King at the 45th International Emmy Awards in New York City on November 20, 2017. King thinks Julie Chen is right to stand by her husband, Les Moonves, amid sexual misconduct allegations against him.
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

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