Born: November 19, 1933;

Died: January 23, 2021.

LARRY King, who has died aged 87, was one of the best-known, and highest-rated, broadcasters in America, whose hour-long programme on CNN every weeknight brought the format of talk-radio to television, and saw him interview tens of thousands of people, ranging from presidents and film stars to those with inventions, books or conspiracy theories to peddle.

Though his show, which was eventually syndicated to more than 130 countries, brought him fame, wealth, a slew of awards and endless cameos as himself in films and on television, it was unusual for it actually to provide much in the way of insight or information.

King made no pretence of being a journalist, or even a competent interviewer: he was a notoriously soft touch, preferring to schmooze and chat with guests, rather than ask difficult questions. He himself described his output as “infotainment”, and admitted that he conducted no research. If a guest had written a book, he would simply ask: “What’s it about?”, avoiding the necessity to do any preparatory reading. He excused this approach by saying that he preferred “the guest to be the expert”.

But that was to do down King’s own role in the programme’s success. Audiences warmed to his breezy, friendly attitude and folksy manner. The impression that any information gleaned from an interviewee was as much news to King as to the least-informed of his viewers seemed to be a draw, as was his unvarying appearance, in heavy glasses, braces and shirtsleeves, usually with his cuffs open, and his tie often loosened.

Before his CNN show, which ran from 1985 until 2010, when he stood down to be replaced by the British broadcaster and former tabloid editor Piers Morgan, King had worked chiefly in radio as a newsreader, breakfast show presenter, late-night talk-show host and sports commentator, and contributed columns to newspapers.

But his strong suit was always the interview; it was estimated that, since his first stint on air in 1957, he had conducted more than 50,000, including every sitting president from Ford to Obama (he often interviewed Donald Trump, but in his days as a real-estate magnate). He also notched up other prominent world leaders – Vladimir Putin was a regular – and figures as diverse as Jimmy Hoffa, Nelson Mandela, Lenny Bruce, the Dalai Lama, Jerry Seinfeld and Lady Gaga.

In 1988 King secured the last interview that Frank Sinatra ever gave.

In 1993 he hosted a debate between then Vice-President Al Gore and Texas billionaire Ross Perot on the North American Free Trade Agreement; the programme broke ratings records at the time, reaching more than 16.3 million viewers.

Two years after that, he interviewed, at the same time, the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein of Jordan.

Lawrence Harvey Zieger was born on November 19, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York City, the second son (his elder brother had died earlier) of Aaron Zieger, who ran a bar and grill, and his wife Jennie. His parents were Orthodox Jews who had come to the USA from Belarus in the 1930s, having been born in either the Austria-Hungarian or Russian Empire.

Larry attended Lafayette High School; in 1943 his father, who had begun working at an armaments factory after America’s entry into the war, died of a heart attack, and the family, which now included Larry’s younger brother Martin, had to rely on welfare payments until his mother found work as a seamstress in the garment district.

Radio was an abiding interest of Larry’s as a child, initially following the fortunes of the Brooklyn Dodgers, but he became a huge fan of Arthur Godfrey’s homely, conversational style on CBS’s morning show. He scraped through his high school graduation in 1951 and almost immediately married Freda Miller, the first of his seven wives (and eight marriages), but the union was annulled within months.

He was desperate to break into broadcasting, though he had little idea how to go about it. For several years he worked as a delivery boy and then as a messenger and copyboy in and around radio stations and newspapers. During his stint at CBS, he was told that Florida was an emerging market, and that stations there were looking for staff; at the age of 23, he headed to Miami, where he got a job as a dogsbody at WAHR.

His big break came on May Day 1957, when the DJ unexpectedly quit and, with no warning or preparation, Larry was bundled into the chair to present the 9am to noon slot. Just before he went on, the general manager told him Zieger was no use as a name, and he selected King at random from an advertisement for a wholesale liquor store in the nearest newspaper. He legally adopted the surname two years later.

King was soon, for $50 a week, presenting the morning show from a restaurant in Miami Beach. By 1960, he had added a show on WPST, a local television station, commentating on the Miami Dolphins football team, and columns in the Miami Herald and Miami News.

He also, thanks to interviews with celebrities such as Jackie Gleason and Bobby Darin, began hanging out with visiting stars, including Ella Fitzgerald, Ed Sullivan and Sinatra. But his personal extravagance, which included clothes, cars and a dangerous enthusiasm for large bets on slow horses, led him to declare bankruptcy in 1960, despite a huge income for the time.

Worse was to follow in 1971, when he was accused of having defrauded a business partner and he lost his jobs at WIOD radio, WTVJ television and his column in the Miami Beach Sun. Though the charges were dropped the next year, and he got his sportscaster’s job back, King struggled to rebuild his position by taking on a range of freelance jobs. He went bust again in 1978, with debts of $350,000.

But that year also marked the beginning of his national fame, when he took on the talk-show for Mutual Broadcasting, a nationally syndicated call-in programme broadcast through the night; he held the role until 1994, and by the time he stepped down more than 500 stations had picked it up.

In 1985, he joined CNN to perform a similar role on TV, on Larry King Live. It became the highest-rated talk show in the country

Off the back of it, he made numerous appearances elsewhere, wrote a column in USA Today for more than 20 years, turned out memoirs and other books on everything from dieting to politics. He appeared, usually as himself, in films, TV shows, sports broadcasts and informercials for diet supplements. After retiring from CNN, he moved on to social media and internet television.

His second marriage to Annette Kaye (1961) lasted less than a year, and produced a son of whom King was unaware until 33 years later. He then married Alene Akins (1961) and adopted her son; they divorced in 1963, but remarried in 1967, and had a daughter, only to divorce again in 1972. In between, he married Mickey Sutphin (1963-67), with whom he had a daughter.

From 1976-83, he was married to Sharon Lepore and from 198-92, Julie Alexander. In 1997, he married Shawn Southwick, with whom he had two sons; they separated in 2019.

Two of his five children predeceased him. Earlier this month, he was diagnosed with Covid-19; he died in hospital in Los Angeles on January 23.