King died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Ora Media, the studio and network he co-founded, tweeted. No cause of death was given, but CNN reported that King had been hospitalised for more than a week with Covid-19.

A longtime nationally syndicated radio host, from 1985 through 2010 Larry King was a nightly fixture on CNN, where he won many honors, including two Peabody awards.
A longtime nationally syndicated radio host, from 1985 through 2010 Larry King was a nightly fixture on CNN, where he won many honors, including two Peabody awards. (Reuters)

Larry King, who quizzed thousands of world leaders, politicians and entertainers for CNN and other news outlets in a career spanning more than six decades, has died at the age 87, his media company said.

King had been hospitalised in Los Angeles with a Covid-19 infection, according to several media reports

He died at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Ora Media, a television production company founded by King, said in a post on Twitter on Saturday. 

"For 63 years and across the platforms of radio, television and digital media, Larry's many thousands of interviews, awards, and global acclaim stand as a testament to his unique and lasting talent as a broadcaster," it said.

He had endured health problems for many years, including a near-fatal stroke in 2019 and diabetes.

Never wanted to be perceived as journalist

Millions watched King interview world leaders, entertainers and other celebrities on CNN's "Larry King Live", which ran from 1985 to 2010. 

Hunched over his desk in rolled-up shirt sleeves and owlish glasses, he made his show one of the network's prime attractions with a mix of interviews, political discussions, current event debates, and phone calls from viewers.

Even in his heyday, critics accused King of doing little pre-interview research and tossing softball questions to guests who were free to give unchallenged and self-promoting answers. 

He responded by conceding he did not do much research so that he could learn along with his viewers. 

Besides, King said, he never wanted to be perceived as a journalist.

"My duty, as I see it, is I'm a conduit," King told the Hartford Courant in 2007. 

"I ask the best questions I can. I listen to the answers. I try to follow up. And hopefully, the audience makes a conclusion. I'm not there to make a conclusion. I'm not a soapbox talk-show host... So what I try to do is present someone in the best light."

In this March 3, 1993 file photo, then Palestinian President Yasser Arafat talks with talk show host Larry King during a break in taping.
In this March 3, 1993 file photo, then Palestinian President Yasser Arafat talks with talk show host Larry King during a break in taping. (Reuters)

Middle East Peace summit

With his celebrity interviews, political debates, and topical discussions, King wasn't just an enduring on-air personality. 

He also set himself apart with the curiosity be brought to every interview, whether questioning the assault victim known as the Central Park jogger or billionaire industrialist Ross Perot, who in 1992 rocked the presidential contest by announcing his candidacy on King's show.

In its early years, "Larry King Live" was based in Washington, which gave the show an air of gravitas. Likewise King. 

He was the plainspoken go-between through whom Beltway bigwigs could reach their public, and they did, earning the show prestige as a place where things happened, where news was made.

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews.

In 1995 he presided over a Middle East peace summit with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. 

He welcomed everyone from the Dalai Lama to Elizabeth Taylor, from Mikhail Gorbachev to Barack Obama, Bill Gates to Lady Gaga.

Especially after he relocated to Los Angeles, his shows were frequently in the thick of breaking celebrity news, including Paris Hilton talking about her stint in jail in 2007 and Michael Jackson's friends and family members talking about his death in 2009.

King boasted of never overpreparing for an interview. 

His non-confrontational style relaxed his guests and made him readily relatable to his audience.

"I don’t pretend to know it all," he 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."

Out of the touch style

After a gala week marking his 25th anniversary in June 2010, King abruptly announced he was retiring from his show, telling viewers, "It’s time to hang up my nightly suspenders." 

Named as his successor in the time slot: British journalist and TV personality Piers Morgan.

By King's departure that December, suspicion had grown that he had waited a little too long to hang up those suspenders. 

Once the leader in cable TV news, he ranked third in his time slot with less than half the nightly audience his peak year, 1998, when "Larry King Live" drew 1.64 million viewers.

His wide-eyed, regular-guy approach to interviewing by then felt dated in an era of edgy, pushy, or loaded questioning by other hosts.

Meanwhile, occasional flubs had made him seem out of touch, or worse. 

A prime example from 2007 found King asking Jerry Seinfeld if he had voluntarily left his sitcom or been cancelled by his network, NBC.

Source: Reuters