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Larry King: The curious everyman who talked to everyone

Didn’t matter if the caller was a crackpot, cranky know-it-all, pretentious intellect or some lonely dude just looking to talk to someone. In the world according to King, they all had something worth listening to.

Talk show host Larry King shown in a photo from 2010.
Talk show host Larry King shown in a photo from 2010.
REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Thoughts about the passing of Larry King:

Late at night, or early morning actually, at the close of “The Larry King Show” on the radio, I’d fall asleep to Doris Day’s sweet rendition of “The Party’s Over”:

“The party’s over,
It’s time to call it day
They’ve burst your pretty balloon
And taken the moon away …”

Back then in the late ‘70s – early ‘80s, King’s radio talk show was broadcast deep into the night and predawn hours. In the first half of the program, King interviewed, well, you name it: diplomats, actors, scientists, comics, writers, theologians, radicals, politicians …. His interviews were extemporaneous. And he didn’t have much more knowledge about them than us listeners. That’s what made his show work.

Along with this: “I’m a guy who asks questions. I like to discover things as they happen. …” King would say, “… and the audience and I discover together.”

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After each interview came the show’s “Open Phone America.” That’s when it really got good. Anyone — you, me, the dairy farmer in Ottumwa, your crazy Uncle Max — would call in and ask anything and say (almost) anything. And King kibbitzed with each one like neighbors along the backyard fence or sitting on a Brooklyn brownstone stoop drinking beer on a warm summer night.

I was living in “the hinterlands” at that time, and “The Larry King Show” connected me to the colorful breadth of America. Didn’t matter if the caller was a crackpot, cranky know-it-all, pretentious intellect or some lonely dude just looking to talk to someone. In the world according to King, they all had something worth listening to. “Amarillo, you’re on the air.” “Birmingham, Alabama, hello.” “Fergus Falls, Minnesota, what’s on your mind?” “Kunkle, Ohio, what’s your question?”…

Now Larry King’s gone. Left are talking heads who host radio (and television) programs — some smart, some not — in their glitzy, sometimes entertaining but almost always predictable ways. Many are hot-tempered, condescending, passive-aggressive, even hostile when they hear what don’t like.

Not Larry King.

He was a self-proclaimed curious guy who liked asking a lot of questions — questions no one else would think to ask. He was curious. And so then, were we.

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Once he asked Watergate scandal co-conspirator John Dean, “What was it like to have been a young, successful person and to have dreams come true and then be in jail?”

Once he asked Richard Nixon what he thinks about when he passes by the Watergate complex.

Richard Schwartz
Richard Schwartz
Once he asked Arthur Fiedler, the great conductor of Boston Pops orchestra, “What do you think of this current craze, the Beatles?”

I can only imagine the question King once posed to Bill Clinton at the White House that elicited this response from the president: “Boy, I envy them out there. … It’s lonely in here.”

For me, each wind up to King’s broadcast was like closing time at a tavern where you’ve been eavesdropping on folks way more interesting than you, and now you must put on your hat and go home.

But not before King signed off each show with Doris Day’s “The Party’s Over.” I was more about Janis Joplin at the time. But sitting in the kitchen or lying in bed near 3 a.m. and listening to her melancholy send-off of “The Larry King Show” was, well, perfect.

“… The party’s over, the candles flicker and dim
You danced and dreamed through the night
It seemed to be right just being with him …”

Thank you, Larry.

Richard Schwartz of Minneapolis is a retired teacher.

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