Over a career spanning nearly 60 years, of which 25 were spent at the CNN, hosting the Larry King Live show, American talk-show legend Larry King, 87, who passed away on Saturday, spoke to prime ministers and presidents, scientists and pop stars, sportsmen, film stars, writers and ordinary Americans. Often in the thick of breaking news, what stood out in King’s nearly 50,000 on-air interviews was the certainty of his suspenders and that most elusive of realisations — that a conversation involves two people; all else is speech.
Unlike the contemporary talk show that approaches an interview with the passion of an inquisitor, King’s shows celebrated the endangered art of making good conversation. King could make his interviewees forget the camera or the microphone because he was genuinely interested in their story. He asked questions, he played it by the ear; he made mistakes and he owned up to them. He was a regular bloke having a regular conversation with newsmakers. If people confided in King, like the American industrialist Ross Perot, who announced his presidential candidature in 1992 on his show, or socialite Paris Hilton, who opened up about her incarceration in 2007, it was because he treated his guests not as a TRP-building prop or an adversary but with courtesy and curiosity.
A good conversation is about drawing out people — it meanders and halts, makes space for gaffes and silences, interruptions and awkwardness because it allows people time to ponder over an idea, to think before reacting. In its negation of the shrill certitude of echo chambers, a conversation fosters an openness to differences and the ability to take oneself lightly. In a 2009 interview with Time magazine, speaking on why he wasn’t drawn to ideology-based talk shows, King had summed up why conversations were grinding to a halt: “That’s something I learned a long time ago, I never learned a thing when ‘I’ was talking.”