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Lessons learned from Larry King

Lessons learned from Larry King Peabody Awards, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Growing up I wasn’t a fan of Larry King. As a little girl in the 1980s, I was more concerned with my Cabbage Patch Dolls and Whitney Houston cassette tapes, so when my parents turned on “Larry King Live” at night to catch his latest interview, I zoned out. I lumped his show in the same category as “MASH” and “Hill Street Blues,” all three of which my parents loved and I eventually came to enjoy.

Larry King passed away this week at the age of 87. Like a lot of folks right now, my TV is perpetually tuned to CNN. On Saturday, after his death was announced, I ended up watching a lengthy remembrance piece with Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer and other famed names. 

I learned a lot about Larry King. I also learned a few lessons from him. Here goes. 

Immigration matters: Many outstanding Americans are immigrants or children of immigrants. King was born in Brooklyn in 1933 with the birth name Lawrence Harvey Zeiger. Both of his parents were Orthodox Jews who immigrated to the United States from Belarus in the 1930s. Immigrants make this country the glorious melting pot that it is. It’s an important fact to remember and honor. 

You’re never too old to achieve your dreams: Despite being a fan of broadcasting and radio since childhood, King did not get his own radio show until he was 45 years old and was 52 years old when “Larry King Live” aired. Big dreams shouldn’t diminish or disappear simply because we age. The bulk and highlights of King’s career happened in the second part of his life. Remind yourself of this when you’re feeling defeated about your own dreams and goals. 

Be a straight talker: I’ve never been one for small talk or long convoluted stories, so I appreciate Larry King’s style. He was focused on getting to the point. He asked incisive, intentional, though-provoking questions. If more people did this in everyday conversations, we could save a lot of time squandered by irrelevant chatting. King said, “You gotta ask ‘why’ questions. ‘Why did you do this?’ A ‘why’ question you can’t answer with one word.”

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Men can make fashion statements too: Suspenders are synonymous with Larry King. When asked in an interview, King surmised he owned at least 150 pairs of suspenders. He had suspender buttons sewn into every pair of pants he owned. After losing weight from a heart surgery, King’s ex-wife suggested he wear suspenders. He took her up on the idea. He liked the feel of them and his fans liked the look of them. King never went back to a suit and tie. 

Hard work breeds luck: King didn’t invent this adage but he embodied it. His story is a testament that working hard opens doors and offers big breaks and introductions needed to achieve goals. A small radio station in Miami told King he had some talent and said he could be a disc jockey as soon as someone quit or was fired. Until then, King hung around the station, swept floors and learned some tools of the trade. He eventually got his turn at the table. He started small but after significant work and perseverance, he landed his own radio show and, ultimately, his live TV show. 

Love is grand: King was married eight times to seven different women over the course of his life. He married one of the ladies twice. Reflecting on his tumultuous love life during an interview with Anderson Cooper in 2009, Larry declared: “I don’t really regret it. I love being in love.” He was married to his final wife, Shawn Southwick, the longest. 

Listening is more important than talking: Larry King famously said, “I never learned anything by talking.” He asked short, straightforward questions then spent most of his interviews listening. While this is a great journalistic strategy, it’s also a wonderful life lesson. I think we could all benefit from talking less and listening more. 

The world of broadcasting has lost an icon. There will only be one Larry King, with his easy breezy conversational style, leaning stance and baritone voice, all while donning colorful suspenders and that sly smile. He once said, “I’ve had a great ride. I’ve got no complaints.” Rest in peace, Larry King. Thank you for what you offered to humanity and to journalism. 

(Susanna Shetley is an editor, writer and digital media specialist for The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living, and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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