After 25 years and nearly 7,000 shows, the CNN host ends his long-running show Thursday. Revisit some of his classic moments, from a miffed Jerry Seinfeld to Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks walkoff.
The WikiLeaks Walkoff
Larry King, armed with common sense, never backs down from a fight. In October 2010, King was in the midst of asking WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange why he had stormed out of an interview on CNN International the previous day after an urgent information dump, when he mistakenly thought the old tape was live footage. Frustrated that Assange had walked off again, King asked why he wouldn’t answer questions about accusations of rape and molestation. “Well, I didn’t walk off, Larry, just then,” Assange replied. “But perhaps I should.” Assange, already known to be somewhat of a hothead, rebuked CNN and King for shameful “tabloid journalism.” But King struck back.
Do talk-show hosts really not read guests’ résumés? At least, that’s what Jerry Seinfeld thought in 2007 after King asked him, “You gave it up right? They didn’t cancel you.” King’s conversational approach—he didn’t explicitly say that he didn’t know if Seinfeld was canceled—and mere suggestion were enough to get under the comedian’s skin. “Do you know who I am?” said Seinfeld, in his signature high-pitched voice, revealing a side of the funnyman that we hadn’t really seen before. The actor told King that 75 million viewers tuned in for the series finale. But seemingly, King wasn’t one of them.
Celine Cries, Laughs, Sings
To Larry King, the guest was always paramount. While other hosts interrupt guests to lead them in a particular direction, he often just lets them talk to their hearts’ content. This happened in a post-Hurricane Katrina show with singer Celine Dion in 2005, where anger, sadness, happiness, and song joined together for a memorably odd and emotional interview.
‘Extremely Inappropriate’ With a Pageant Queen
“ Inappropriate King Live continues,” King said in a 2009 interview with beauty queen Carrie Prejean. The former Miss California USA received heat for her comments about same-sex marriage and was also under fire for an alleged sex tape, but refused to disclose the reason behind her termination settlement with the pageant organizers. King refused to let her hide behind her defense that everything was “confidential.” And in a final act of rebellion, Prejean ended the interview. Unfortunately, having not mastered the official Larry King walkoff, she only removed her microphone and failed to leave the set.
Eric Massa, “Are You Gay?”
Former Congressman Eric Massa wasn’t tickled by King’s “silly” question in this 2010 interview. Massa resigned because he “got too familiar with [his] staff” (i.e. allegedly groping and tickling some male staffers). King, never afraid to whip out a blunt question, uttered three words that set Massa off: “Are you gay?” A defensive Massa told King to ask his question to the 10,000 sailors he served with in the Navy and accused the host of insulting every gay American. Since that interview, Massa has yet to set the record straight on his sexual orientation.
Nitty-Gritty Details With the Pregnant Man
There’s no question that this cringe-worthy sex talk between King and Thomas Beatie, a.k.a. the “ Pregnant Man,” set a new standard for awkward television. On any other program, a question like, “You can’t have the normal kind of intercourse?” would have been put to rest with the answer, “We can.” King, however, did not go gently into the night. The host’s reply of “Oh,” surrounded by two pregnant pauses, was enough to make Beatie and his wife explain in graphic, scientific detail precisely how their love life works.
D-O-Double G- Meets L-A-Double R-Y
With so much drama on Larry King Live, it was a welcome respite to interview rapper Snoop Dogg. Among the episode’s finer moments: The one and only D-O-double G said, “I’ve got a little speezak, I call the Doggy Dizey in the front of the Kezetin, you know what I'm saying?” King responded, “ No, I don’t.” The two then hopped into Dogg’s ride and the West Coast rapper gave the West Coast host a lesson in dippin’ when you low ride—all set to the sound of “Gin and Juice,” naturally.
The O.J. Simpson Car Chase
As King began his broadcast on June 17, 1994, producers gave him instructions about O.J. Simpson’s whereabouts through his earpiece: "We've got a report to pick up the car. Go to the car." For the next two-and-a-half hours, King anchored the white Bronco chase that riveted America. The typically straight-forward interviewer assumed the role of straight-forward reporter.
Live With Paul, Ringo… and George?
There are few hosts that garner the respect to not only reunite The Beatles, but to also get them to shrug off a major interview faux pas. But in 2007, King got Sir Paul McCartney to speak about the moment he heard John Lennon passed away and he then turned to Ringo Starr and said, “George, where were you?” While Starr quickly moved on, McCartney and King traded friendly jabs. Watch as the music legend explains the intricacies of live television.
Lady Gaga on Lupus or Something
When Lady Gaga appeared on the show dressed as Larry King, she gave her best poker face when asked how she was doing. So, a curious King dug deeper: “There was a story about lupus or something… did you have lupus?” While King got some flak for treating the disease lightly, Gaga confessed that she tested borderline positive. But if King asked the question with more “sincerity” or caution, would Gaga have reacted differently? As the host himself so often said, “Your thoughts?”
“Tik Tok” with Benjamin Netanyahu
Old-school Larry King isn’t exactly the authority when it comes to viral videos. Though he’s known for entering an interview without an agenda, in July 2007, King asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whether he had seen a video of soldiers on patrol dancing to Ke$ha’s pop hit “Tik Tok.” Netanyahu seemingly was hearing about this video for the first time, and so was King. The host actually said so, and added, “They gave me a note here… They said it’s on the Web.” King, who in a 2006 interview with Rosanne Barr admitted that he’s never “ punched little buttons and things” to use the Internet, wasn’t amused by what he saw.
The Importance of the Skateboard
Jake Brown is a world-class skateboarder. Larry King knows nothing about skateboarding. And the product of those two facts was an extraordinarily bizarre interview in 1995. The Aussie skater had just been injured after falling 45 feet at a competition, suffering fractured vertebrae, a bruised liver, a bruised lung, and a concussion. As King watched Brown’s highlight reel, he asked the tough, introspective questions that were on everyone’s mind: “Boy, that’s pretty great stuff. How important is the board?” Though those in the skating industry ridiculed the interview, King seemed to have genuine interest in the sport—despite the fact that he may think Tony Hawk is a type of bird. Let’s just be thankful King didn’t hit the half-pipe like he did in his interview with LeBron James.
Tammy Faye’s Farewell
Famed televangelist and Christian singer Tammy Faye Bakker Messner gave her final interview on Larry King Live in 2007 at the age of 65. Appearing on the show as a mere ghost of her former self, she described her battle with colon and lung cancer, saying she could no longer swallow food and admitted to weighing only 65 pounds. King conducted the interview as usual, handling the fragile situation with respect to her grave state (Messner told him her death was imminent). A day after the interview, she passed away.
Legally Blind Men Read Newspapers
Do newspaper rumors have the same effect on someone who’s legally blind since? Seems like a simple enough question. But when Larry King proposed something similar to New York Gov. David Paterson in February 2010, critics were not impressed. Paterson, though clearly taken aback by the question, answered on the show, explaining how his disability—and all its accompanying challenges—make him tougher.
The Polanski Murder Gaffe
In a rare mistake while interviewing, and a staple of “Worst Larry King Moment” lists, the legendary host suggested that Roman Polanski had killed his wife in 2007. “How can you have a civil conversation with someone who so brutally murdered your sister?” he asked Polanski’s former sister-in-law. Instantly recognizing his error, the always professional King rephrased the question and continued on with the interview without hesitation.
Sujay Kumar works at The Daily Beast. He's written for MTV Splash Page and The Daily Illini.