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Good Night, Larry King

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“We’re both members of the zipper club,” noted Larry King introducing Bill Clinton on the final episode of Larry King Live Thursday night, prompting nervous laughter from the ex-prez. Minutes later, King broke in to say that “the suits” at CNN wanted him to clarify. By “zipper club,” he meant they’d both had open-heart surgery. “I’m glad you clarified that,” said Clinton.

As an insomniac, I have a long history with Larry King. From the ages of probably 12 to 20 years old, I either did (or did not) fall asleep listening to his midnight until dusk radio show.

I liked Larry a lot. He was very liberal. He was supposedly friends with Lenny Bruce and Jackie Gleason. He loved baseball. He was there for me every night for about a decade.

The first time my college roommate threw me a pillow and locked me out for the night, I was enraged because I couldn’t fall asleep without listening to that guy. “Dude, please have all the sex you want—just front me my radio!”

Larry was lazy, but I kind of was too. Ask anyone you know what word comes to mind about his “three dot column” in USA Today and the word lazy immediately comes to mind. Larry King had one of the greatest laziness excuses of all time.

He claimed that he refused to read a subject’s book ahead of time to prepare for his interviews. Larry’s rational was that it would temper the natural inquisitiveness of his interviews.

Remember, Denzel Washington’s “Now, explain it to me like I’m a four-year-old” routine in the movie Philadelphia? That was Larry’s interviewing style. He interviewed everybody from Johnny Rotten to Richard Nixon and pretty much treated them all like he’d just been bused in from another planet.

Imagine Bob Costas, take the photographic negative of that and you had Larry King. Costas would be asking someone like Pete Townshend about his obscure spiritual avatar Mehar Baba. Larry would have to ask who Pete Townshend was.

Stunningly, that wasn’t really that bad. If you wanted a sympathetic ear to state your case, then Larry King’s CNN show was the place to do it. He made Ryan Seacrest look like a hard-hitting journalist every single night, but if his subject had something of value to say – truth or not – Larry King got it out of them quickly and efficiently. His pure ignorance gimmick really was effective at times, and the sheer number of people he’s interviewed over the years is overwhelmingly impressive.

Do the suspenders look absurd?

Are the millions of divorces troubling?

Did he break the law fairly seriously in the 1970’s?

Were some of his soft ball questions beyond ignorant?

Did he write a new autobiography every single year?

Sure, but I could forgive all that. Larry King really broke my heart over a stupid lie. He used to tell these really funny stories on the radio. One of them was called the Carvel Story about a late night road trip with boyhood friend Sandy Koufax, and it was hilarious. Well, it was hilarious until Sandy Koufax came out and said that he’d never hung out with Larry as a youth.

Larry got me through a lot of dark, lonely nights, and I still have a soft spot for the lecherous old coot, but hearing that the Carvel Story and by extension probably all of his stories were bunk really broke my heart.

In the end, Larry King never found a celebrity he wasn’t interested in, or at least interested in being able to fawn over. Check out the man’s books on Amazon – they are all about him. I’ve read a number of them and to tell you the truth I’m still not sure that I know the true man one little bit.

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