Image Credit: Everett CollectionWhen Larry King signed off last night, it marked the end of an era. For the past 25 years, Larry King Live has been CNN’s flagship show, a forum for long-form interviews with the famous by choice — politicians, heads of state, movie stars, television personalities, musicians — and the famous by circumstance, often ordinary folks affected by tragedy. King has been there for many of history’s most significant moments these past 25 years, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to 9/11, not just presenting history to us, but witnessing it with us. The greatest moments of Larry King Live, though, the ones many of us remember most, are generally ones without global significance, the ones that show a flawed, funny human being who above all is interested in…simply having a conversation. Here are our picks for Larry King’s 12 greatest moments. Piers Morgan, you have big shoes, er, suspenders to fill.
1. Marlon Brando (1994) — Sure an interview show can feature icons, but can it produce iconic moments of its own? The best answer I could offer would be a two-shot of Larry King facing an obese, barefoot, semi-recumbent Marlon Brando at the method-man’s comfy home. Truth be told, their 1994 face-off is not a great interview, more a televised meet cute. But then who could ever figure out what made Brando tick? Instead, we have him correcting King’s pitch during a duet and announcing that he’s wearing red suspenders under his outfit in tribute (a la Lady Gaga 16 years later), before planting a wet one right on his lips.
2. The NAFTA Debate (1993) — Hard to believe that Ross Perot was once a formidable enough political figure that the Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, would come on LKL to debate him over NAFTA. Drawing upon tactics he learned during his Harvard debate team days, Gore sat especially close to Perot to throw him off his guard. When the VP pressed Perot, saying, “I’m listening — I haven’t heard the answer, but go ahead,” Perot snapped, “That’s cause you haven’t quit talking.” The stuff SNL parodies are made of.
3. The Beatles (2007) — To promote the launch of LOVE, the Beatles’ Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil show, Larry reunited the surviving two of the Fab Four, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, along with Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison. McCartney delighted viewers with his impromptu jam session on a mandolin, while Larry caused everyone to feel embarrassed for him when he called Ringo “George.”
4. Carrie Prejean (2009) — The non-walkout walkout heard round the world — or at least seen on YouTube. The former Miss California and gay marriage opponent got upset with Larry for asking her why she settled with California pageant officials instead of pursuing a lawsuit. “Larry, you’re being inappropriate,” Prejean scolded. She took off her mic and earpiece, but inexplicably remained in her seat — with cameras rolling — rather than just walking out the door. A master class in interview brinksmanship.
5. Larry’s kids, reacting to Jack Hanna (2007) — Actually, where will we ever see Jack Hanna again? Larry gave him a regular platform on his show to present his exotic creatures. I know, another boring talk show animal segment, right? Wrong! When Larry brought his sons Chance and Cannon to see Jack’s critters, a poisonous toad leapt on Chance, prompting screams from the tyke of, “Get away from me! Get him off of me! GET HIM OFF OF ME!” Even more priceless, though? The stone-faced reaction of Cannon, who surely must have thought his brother was a goner.
6. O.J. Simpson (1994) — Everybody remembers watching Walter Cronkite break the news of JFK’s death or announce that man had landed on the moon. If Larry King is associated with any one particular news story, it has to be the slow-speed chase involving O.J. Simpson’s white Ford Bronco, as he and driver Al Cowlings motored across LA with police in pursuit. It was the kind of lurid, sensational event 24-hour news was invented to cover, and you know that on June 17, 1994 you were glued to your set. Hey, I was, and I was only eight years old at the time!
7. The Haiti Telethon (2010) — After the tragic earthquake in Haiti this January, King organized an all-star telethon to help the relief effort and netted almost $10 million. Mick Jagger, Jennifer Lopez, Ringo Starr, Seal, Ben Stiller, and many more were on hand. For the cause, Larry even auctioned off his suspenders!
8. Heather Mills takes her leg off (2003/2010) — The ex-Mrs. McCartney is like a box of English toffees. You never know what you’re gonna get. And Larry sure didn’t when Mills took off her artificial leg on the air and let him hold it. “Paul’s gonna get upset, you touching my leg, Larry,” she quipped. She removed her appendage again in 2010 to promote the necessity of raising money for artificial limbs in the wake of the Haiti earthquake.
9. So many Old Timers — No other show in years has given as much time to Old Hollywood legends as Larry King Live. From featuring ’40s starlets like Jane Russell to reuniting the I Dream of Jeannie cast to devoting a full-hour tribute to the late Eddie Fisher, LKL gave its older-skewing audience exactly what it wanted, and sadly, without King on the air, we’re not again likely to see such past greats anywhere outside Turner Classic Movies. And yet…
10. Lady Gaga (2010) — …Larry could also embrace today’s hottest new stars. Case in point: Lady Gaga. Mother Monster continued the tradition of dressing up like her interviewer (which she started when she previously adopted Barbara Walters’ old lady chic for herself), by donning Larry’s trademark suspenders and glasses, and even having her hair swept back into a similar bowl-shaped ‘do.
11. Jerry Seinfeld rips Larry a new one (2007) — Larry apparently didn’t realize Seinfeld was a hit show, going so far as to ask Jerry if it was canceled. “You’re not aware of this? You think I got canceled?” Seinfeld scoffed. “You’re under the impression that I got canceled? I thought that was pretty well documented.…Is this still CNN? That was the No. 1 show on television, Larry. Do you know who I am?” Seriously, if that was faux outrage, then that’s Jerry’s greatest performance ever.
12. Snoop Dogg (2010) — Larry and Snoop take a drive through LA in Mr. Dogg’s 1967 Pontiac Parisienne. See, opposites do attract!
What are your favorite Larry King moments, PopWatchers?