The Rake


There are generally two breeds of interviewer. The first kind are assiduous about getting prepped for their subject. Sir David Frost was the exemplar here; when I turned up to interview him some years ago, he spent the first few minutes making ostentatious reference to a slew of recent stories I’d done, which was both impressive and not a little disarming.

The second group takes a — how to put this? — more cavalier approach. Larry King was indisputably their champion. Over 25 years and his many thousands of interviews fronting Larry King Live, CNN’s highest-rated, longest-running programme that reached millions across America and some 130 countries around the world, the Brooklyn-born King displayed what The New York Times called “the folksy personality of a Bensonhurst schmoozer”, making a kind of virtue of his breezy unpreparedness. “If I meet someone I don’t know, and I don’t know the topic, that’s heaven,” he once said. “You’ve got to learn.”

Occasionally, the learning curve had been cancelled by its network. But King, already a radio talk-show veteran, became the sharp-angled, arch-shouldered, pointy-elbowed, saucer-spectacled, gravelly baritoned, statement-suspendered face of CNN at a time when the network was becoming the United States’ signature media export. He called his soft-shoe style “infotainment”, while ’ Maureen Dowd archly referred to it as “the resort area of American journalism”. But over the decades, his hot seat played host to every U.S. president since Gerald Ford, plus Eleanor Roosevelt and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. He interviewed Mike Tyson while Tyson was in prison for rape, and the day after O.J. Simpson was acquitted, Simpson rang into his old pal King’s show for a live chat. As far back as 1999, Donald Trump revealed to King that he was exploring the possibility of running for president. Mikhail Gorbachev made sure he donned a pair of the brightest braces before meeting King for dinner. Paul Newman said that, whenever he landed abroad, the first thing he did was turn on CNN and look for King. Stephen Colbert told King he lost his virginity to an audio backdrop of King’s throaty bray.

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