The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Larry King: How can we miss you if you won't go away?

June 30, 2010 | 12:49 pm

Geez, I'm gonna miss Larry King. Seriously. He's been a constant presence in my life ever since I was a kid in Miami, listening to him at night on his local radio show, where he'd interview whatever B-list celebrity came to town, asking pretty much the exact same questions he asked Lady Gaga when she was on the show recently. King probably had more impact on impressionable young journalists than anyone since Tom Wolfe, although in a slightly different way, since if you had any brains in your head, your goal was to become the anti-Larry King.

Not to pick on Larry, since when a journalistic elder retires, it is customary for us to bow and scrape and remember the old guy's finest moments, like the time he got Marlon Brando all misty-eyed, but King Larry's interview with Lady Gaga was a perfect example of how little Larry brought to the table, even when he had a great subject to work with. Gaga was clearly psyched about being on the show, even dressing up in a mock King wardrobe, wearing big, fat black suspenders and a neatly knotted tie, just like the host.

But Gaga clearly forgot that King never wanders off script. No matter what she said, no matter how outrageous or funny or colorful, King paid it no mind, obliviously plowing on with his dreary prepared questions -- "How did you come up with the name Lady Gaga?" "At what age growing up did you know you wanted to be a performer?" "Do you consider yourself an icon?" Did the family encourage you to sing and dance and perform?" -- as if he thought he was interviewing Celine Dion or Carrie Underwood, not a true provocateur.

At least King didn't have any exalted view of his work. When someone asked him last night who could succeed him, he was already pushing for a lightweight like Ryan Seacrest, saying, "Hey, it's just Q&A." And for Larry, that's all it was: good easygoing conversation, just on TV instead of at the back booth at Nate & Al's. For years and years, it worked like a charm. And now that the ratings have disappeared, it's time for Larry to ride off into the sunset.

When I interviewed Larry a few years ago, he said he liked playing bit parts in movies (his credits include "Ghostbusters" and "Shrek") but wanted a shot at more ambitious roles. "I got a nice voice, I look healthy," he told me. "I could play a judge, lawyer, crook, politician. I'm tired of just doing cameos." But as it turned out, the role Larry was born to play was the guy on TV who always asked the least interesting questions of all.

Here's Larry at his best -- free-associating with Sharon Tate's sister [actually, his former sister-in-law] to the point where he mistakenly pins Tate's murder on Roman Polanski:


 

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