There was no one quite like Larry King. The late TV icon (who just passed away on January 23, 2021, at the age of 87) was born to a working-class family in Brooklyn. King managed to work his way to the top of the broadcasting industry. From prominent politicians to celebrities and even UFO conspirators, if they have a story, you can bet they have been on Larry King’s show.
His life is a classic rags to riches story, with a lot of tragedy and heartbreak along the way. From tumultuous relationships and affairs to secret children and multiple health scares, we take a look at the darker side of Larry King’s life.
Larry King was born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, to an Orthodox Jewish family. While the world knows the talk show host as Larry King, back then, he went by his birth name, Lawrence Harvey Zeiger. His mother Jennie worked as a garment worker, while his father, Aaron, ran a popular bar and grill that was the hotspot for many of the working-class families in the area.
King and his father were quite close, which made the tragedy of June 9, 1943, all the more devastating. On that day, a young King was walking home from the local library when he spotted three police cars parked in front of his family’s apartment building.
Not knowing what was going on, he began to walk faster. As he approached the building, he could hear his mother screaming. The nine-year-old was about to enter the building when he was stopped in his tracks by a police officer, who informed King that his father had passed away from a heart attack. He was only 44 years old.
The entire Zeigler family was devastated. On top of losing her husband, Jennie was now a single mother in charge of raising two kids. Aaron had been the primary breadwinner of the family, and Jennie barely made any money as a garment worker. Within months, the family’s economic situation became dire, and they were forced to enroll in welfare programs to make ends meet.
King was greatly affected by his father’s death. It launched him into a downward spiral of sadness and depression. His schoolwork also suffered as a result, and eventually going to college was just out of the question. Luckily, King still managed to graduate high school and worked a series of jobs to help support his younger brother and mother.
After graduating high school, King decided that he was ready for a change of scenery. King had been told by a CBS staff announcer that there were plenty of job openings in Miami for inexperienced broadcasters. Seeing as it was his childhood dream to work in radio, King decided to pack his bags and head to Florida.
While there were some minor setbacks when King first arrived in Florida in 1957, he managed to land a job at a local radio station, but not as a broadcaster. King was offered to work as a janitor and perform menial tasks around the radio station. While this wasn’t exactly his dream job, it was a job.
Then, one day, a popular broadcaster abruptly quit, and the station needed to put someone on the air quickly. This was King’s chance. He offered to fill in, but minutes before he went live, the general manager suggested that he change his name because Lawrence Zeigler was “too ethnic and hard to remember.”
So, just before he was about to go on the airwaves for the first time, King had to pick a name to go by. At the last minute, he decided to go with the last name “King” after seeing an ad in the Miami Herald for King’s Wholesale Liquor.
The first show went off without a hitch, and King was offered the 9 a.m. to noon spot, for a mere $50 a week. King obviously took the position, and two years later, he was a local star. His small empire included several radio gigs, multiple TV shows, and columns for three local newspapers.
By 1959, King was making a good amount of money, but he didn’t know how to hold on to it. He blew most of his earnings betting on horse races and trying to impress his celebrity friends by spending way too much money. One of those friends was money man Lou Wolfson.
As a self-made millionaire by the age of 29, Wolfson was someone of interest in the ’60s. The two became friends, and Wolfson financed one of King’s radio shows. But that all came crashing down when Wolfson was later investigated and convicted of stock fraud.
By now, King had already established his career as a radio personality and had recently become friendly with the newly elected president, Richard Nixon. Now what happened next is all, “he said, she said,” but apparently Nixon offered to get Wolfson exonerated from his crimes.
So, he gave the case to his new Attorney General, John Mitchell. For some reason or another, Mitchell decided against taking the financier on as a client. Now King was either mad at Wolfson or saw a chance to make a quick buck (or possibly both) and allegedly decided to scam his former friend.
King apparently told Wolfson that the new Attorney General had agreed to work the case. Wolfson was thrilled and sent King $48,500 to pay Mitchell’s firm. However, according to Wolfson, King took the money for himself to pay off his creditors. King, on the other hand, says the story went a little differently.
Apparently, Wolfson paid King $48,500 to persuade Mitchell to take on the financer’s case. By 1971, the situation between the two former business partners and friends had gotten so bad that King was arrested for grand larceny. The charges were eventually dismissed, but King’s reputation had taken a hit.
After being fired from his job as a commentator for the Miami Dolphins, King spent the next few years working on his career. He worked as a commentator for the Shreveport Steamer (remember them?) and also hosted a sports talk show called Sports-à-la-King.
While these were great jobs, King knew that he was destined for more. The talk show host finally got the breakthrough that he had been hoping for in 1978: He went national. King was given the night talk show slot on Mutual Broadcasting System. King’s career seemed to be on track, but his personal life? Not so much.
King has been married so many times that we’ve lost count (it’s actually eight times). Over and over again, things just didn’t seem to work out—a pattern that the talk show host established in early adulthood. King married his high school sweetheart, Freda Miller, in 1952.
However, neither of their parents approved of the union. After all, King and Miller were barely out of high school and had their whole life ahead of them. A few months later, their parents forced the couple to annul their marriage.
After parting ways with his high school sweetheart, King headed down to Miami, where he met a woman named Annette Kaye. Like his first marriage, not much is known about Kaye, and that’s mainly because King kept this marriage a secret for decades. “I never told anybody about the first time I got married in Florida.
“Not even my brother,” King wrote in his 2009 memoir My Remarkable Journey. “There was no wedding party. I was this young kid, and I got into an affair with a beautiful woman ten years older than me.”
Oh, so now we can see why King kept it a secret. Their relationship had started out as an affair, as Kaye was married to someone else at the time. But when the mother of three finally decided to end her marriage, she told the talk show host that he had no option but to marry her.
To Kaye, it made sense. Her marriage was over because of King, so it was King’s job to pick up the pieces. “She could be very controlling,” King continued, “and I was never good at saying no.”
Kaye and King got hitched at City Hall in Broward Country, Florida. Although the two had just tried the knot, King began to take a step back from the relationship. He refused to move in with his new wife and only saw Kaye a handful of times before the two decided to get a divorce.
Kaye, however, was pregnant with the couple’s son at the time. In 2009, King shared that Kaye said, “If it’s a boy, I’m gonna name him Larry King Jr.,” but then he never heard from her.
It wasn’t until King received a call from his second ex-wife three decades later that he heard her voice again. Kaye called to tell King that she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and that their son wished to meet his father.
While many people would have felt guilty about never meeting their son, King did not. “In retrospect, I should’ve said to people, ‘You know, there’s a chance there’s a guy out there with my name who’s my son,’” he said in 2009. “I couldn’t call it guilt. I don’t know what it is. Maybe a wonderment, but not guilt.”
Today, Larry King Jr. is 59 years old, and he is married with three children. He didn’t meet his father until 1994 when he was in his thirties. In fact, King kept his son a secret until 2009 when the talk show host publicly revealed that he had a son on his show, Larry King Live.
King has tried to make up for the fact that he was absent for much of his son’s life. He even made Larry King Jr. the head of the Larry King Heart Foundation in California.
Larry King rose to fame in the ’50s and ’60s, and according to his memoir, he had his fair share of fun with a handful of Playboy bunnies. But one woman, in particular, caught his eye. Her name was Alene Akins, and she was 20 years old.
Akins had tagged along with her Playboy Bunny cousin to a party that King was also attending. “I was attracted to her right away,” King wrote in 2009. However, there were a few complications. For starters, King had already stuck up a “relationship” with her cousin. And then there was Andy.
The future Playboy Bunny already had a five-year-old son. However, King didn’t care. He loved Akins and therefore loved Andy. A few months after King’s divorce with Kaye was finalized, he proposed to Akins, and the two got hitched in 1961. But their marriage was never meant to last.
The couple filed for divorce in 1963, just a few months after King officially adopted Andy. After their split, King actually introduced Akins to one of his friends, and the two hit it off and moved to Iowa. Although King was the one who introduced the two, it still hurt.
King later said that Akins falling in love with one of his friends was a huge blow to his ego, “which might explain why I rebounded by marrying a woman who worked [with him at his radio station].” But like his other three marriages, this one didn’t last.
Not much is known about King’s fourth wife nor their three-year marriage. According to his memoir, she “wishes to remain anonymous.” However, according to People magazine, her name is Mickey Sutphin. During her marriage to King, Sutphin gave birth to a little girl named Kelly.
The marriage ended after only three years because Sutphin reportedly left King for another man. She had custody of Kelly, who was formally adopted by her new husband. Both Sutphin (if that’s her real name) and Kelly have remained out of the spotlight.
While King was saddened about yet another divorce, it just so happened that his third ex-wife, Alene Akins, was also newly single. The two rekindled their romance before deciding to get hitched for the second time in 1968. Shortly after, Akins gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Chaia.
For some reason or another, the couple was unable to make their relationship work. They officially called in quits in 1971 and never got back together again. Although the two were divorced, there was never any bad blood between the former couple.
King sure likes to get married, especially to blonde bombshells who are quite a few years younger than him. He is seemingly never deterred that every single one has ended in divorce or just fizzled out. According to The New York Daily News, King rebounded from his second divorce to Akins with, you guessed it, another wedding.
King met and fell in love with a math teacher and production assistant named Sharon Lepore. The two were married in 1976, which was right around the time that King’s career finally took off. Two years after their marriage, King’s radio show went national.
It seems that everything was going well for King. His career was finally on track, and he was finally in a marriage that worked. But for unknown reasons (possibly because of his career or because he was a serial divorcee), King and Lepore split in 1983 after a seven-year relationship. Not bad, King!
However, at 50 years old, King found himself divorced for the sixth time. After years of bouncing between wives, King decided that it was the time that he takes a break from marriage. He began to focus on his career for the next couple of years.
Well, this break paid off because two years after his divorce, King was offered Larry King Live on CNN. This was huge. From UFO conspiracy theorists to prominent politicians, King began hosting a broad range of guests. There’s a reason why people loved coming on his show.
Unlike most interviewers, King made a reputation of asking easy, open-ended questions. This made his show very attractive to important figures who wanted to say their piece without being challenged.
Pretty soon, everyone from celebrities to politicians began doing their first (and many times only) interview about breaking news stories on Larry King Live. As time went on, King’s celebrity status was through the roof. Everyone knew who he was, which reportedly help him land his next wife, businesswoman Julie Alexander.
Alexander describes their relationship as “as close as possible to cupid throwing an arrow in my heart.” The two met for the first time in the summer of ’89, and, clearly, both King and Alexander were smitten with each other. On the night of their first date, King proposed.
After six years of being single, it was time for the talk show host to get married again. The couple got engaged on August 1st and tied the knot in October of that same year. Unfortunately, this marriage did not last, mainly because the two never saw one another.
Alexander was based in Philadelphia, while King was based in Washington, D.C. Although Philly and D.C. aren’t that far apart, the two were so invested in their work that they hardly made time for one another. The couple separated a year later and formally divorced in 1992.
Unlike King, Alexander never remarried and told Inside Edition that “Larry has a heart of gold.” It seems like King took a piece of her heart and never gave it back. Or Alexander just realized that she’d rather focus on her career and not waste her time trying to get married again.
The next woman who stole King’s heart (or least for a few weeks) was B-list actress Deanna Lund. The actress is best known for her role as Irwin Allen in the Land of the Giants television series. The two began dating in 1995, with King proposing five weeks later.
Unfortunately for King, the relationship fizzled out, and the two went their separate ways before making it to the altar. Well, I guess it’s not so unfortunate because it paved the way for King’s happy ever after (or at least his longest marriage to date).
After so many failed relationships, it seemed as though King had finally found the one. The 64-year-old married Shawn Southwick, a TV host and singer 26 years his junior. The two tied the knot in King’s hospital room, two days before he underwent a serious operation for a clogged artery.
Thankfully, King made a speedy recovery, and the couple had a second wedding ceremony. This time, it was a lavish affair in front of several guests. At the time, it seemed like these two were perfect for each other. However, their 22 year-long marriage was turbulent, to say the least.
In 2008, Page Six reported that Southwick had begun treatment for a painkiller addiction. This was the first sign of trouble in their marriage. Then, two years later, People magazine reported that Southwick had been unfaithful.
Pretty soon, all the tabloids began reporting that Southwick was having an affair with Hector Penate, one of their son’s baseball coaches. Penate, possibly excited about his 15 minutes of fame, went on air to confirm that the rumors were true. He even claimed that the two began sleeping with each other just two and a half weeks after meeting for the first time in 2007.
“Larry was in New Hampshire, and I was training the kids,” the little league coach told In Touch. “Then she made a couple of hints to me that she was ready to go. We were in the car, and we just started kissing.” Nauseated yet? Well, the story gets worse.
Penate told interviewers that he tagged along with King, Southwick, and their two sons on a trip to Mexico, where he apparently “had sex in Larry’s bed a lot.” Classy. In the same interview, the little league coach said that Southwick made sure to take care of him.
King’s wife paid for her lover’s rent, bought him expensive gifts, and even wanted to have a baby with him. “She wanted to have a little girl with me,” Penate told reporters. The little league coach also claimed that King was aware that he was sleeping with Southwick but didn’t care.
Why? Because he was already sleeping with Southwick’s then-46-year-old sister, Shannon Engemann. “I still think to this day that Larry is in love with Shawn’s sister,” Penate added. At this point, King had enough. Completely embarrassed by the entire situation, King filed for divorce in April 2010.
Both King and Engemann were adamant that they never had an affair. Engemann even gave her own interview for In Touch, where she claimed that she was not the reason for her sister’s divorce. In an attempt to save her marriage and reputation, Southwick denied her affair with her son’s baseball coach.
Eventually, King and Southwick made up and decided not to go through with the divorce. But then, in 2016, sources told People Magazine that Southwick was having yet another affair. This time, it was with public speaking guru Richard Greene.
Southwick first met Greene after he appeared on the podcast that she co-hosts with her husband. Apparently, the two began having “steaming hot sex” just a few weeks later. According to multiple sources, King had no idea that his wife was unfaithful and only learned about the affair after The Enquirer asked his reps for a comment.
Although the talk show host was completely embarrassed and heartbroken by his wife’s actions, the two remained together for another three years. When King finally filed for divorce in 2019, Southwick told DailyMailTV that she was “blindsided” and “crushed.” Really?
A few months after filing for divorce, King told people that what ultimately destroyed his marriage to Southwick wasn’t her multiple affairs, “The age difference eventually takes its toll,” he said. “Also, my wife is a very religious Mormon, and I’m an agnostic atheist, so that causes little problems.”
Today, the 87-year-old is single, and due to his deteriorating health, who knows if he’ll marry again. But this is far from the first time the talk show host has been sick. According to his 2009 memoir, King had two habits: getting married and chain-smoking.
Back in his heyday, King smoked not just one, not two, but THREE packs a day. Can you imagine? King admitted that he smoked like this for thirty years—from the ’50s until the ’80s— and he was forced to quit in order to save his life.
In 1987, just after his 53rd birthday, King suffered a major heart attack. The doctors told him that smoking, working long hours, fried foods, and too many desserts were what contributed to his health scare. Even though his own father died of a heart attack at the age of 44, King didn’t think that he was at risk.
King admitted that he thought that heart attacks were what happened “to other people.” The talk show host even ignored early signs, like shortness of breath and chest pains, figuring that it was just heartburn. But on that cold morning in February 1987, something felt off.
After smoking one more cigarette, he checked himself into a hospital near his studio in Washington D.C. That’s when doctors told him that he was in the middle of a major heart attack. He was administered a lifesaving anti-blood clot medicine, which thankfully saved his life. But his health problems didn’t end there.
That same year, the broadcaster was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes. Then, 12 years later, King was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He luckily made a recovery, but his happiness was short-lived. In 2017, doctors discovered a dark spot in his lungs during a routine doctor appointment, which they later found out was stage one lung cancer.
Luckily, doctors caught it in time, and King underwent surgery to get the growth removed. But King wasn’t out of danger yet. Two years later, he suffered a stroke. This string of health scares began to affect King’s mental state.
Following the stroke, King was forced to give up driving and is basically dependent on everyone around him. This was a hard pill for the broadcaster to swallow, and eventually, King began having suicidal thoughts. “I didn’t want to live this way,” the talk show host told KTLA.
“I didn’t want to live dependent on others.” But it wasn’t just his deteriorating health that affected King’s depression. In the summer of 2020, King announced that two of his children, Adam and Chaia, from his marriage to Alene Akins, passed away within weeks of each other.
According to King’s statement, 65-year-old Andy passed away from a heart attack on July 28, 2020, while 51-year-old Chaia lost her battle with lung cancer a few weeks later, on August 20. “It is with sadness and a father’s broken heart that I confirm the recent loss of two of my children,” King wrote on social media.
“Losing them feels so out of order. No parent should have to bury a child.” Their deaths came on the heels of their mother passing away in 2017. After the loss of his two children, King was surrounded by family and friends who made sure that he didn’t grieve alone.
Towards the end of his life, King spent most of his time at home after being diagnosed with the virus. But sadly, he was never able to make a full recovery. The talk show host passed away on January 23, 2021, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
His deteriorating health has taken a toll on his surviving children, but especially his youngest sons, 21-year-old Chance and 20-year-old Cannon, from his eighth marriage. “I will be forever grateful for my Dad and the amazing man and example he is to me,” Chance wrote in 2020. “Our love for each other is endless and everlasting.”
Shortly after the legendary broadcaster’s death, his family began fighting over his estate. Let’s just say that the entire situation has taken an ugly turn. It all began when Shawn, who had been married to Larry since 1997, thought that she was getting all of Larry’s estate, which has an estimated worth of $2 million.
After all, it was left to her in his will. However, that all changed in January 2021 when Larry King Jr. presented the court with a handwritten note. Apparently, the broadcaster wrote an amendment to his will in October 2019.
In the note, Larry writes that in the event that he passes away, he wants his estate split evenly between his five kids. But there’s one problem with this note: Shawn’s name is nowhere to be seen. This will amendment, also known as a holographic will, completely writes Shawn out of her husband’s will.
But why would he do such a thing? Well, this came just two months after he filed for a divorce. He knew that his health was deteriorating, and according to his son, Larry did not want Shawn’s hands on his money.
The broadcaster’s seventh wife says that she was completely blindsided by this document, especially since their divorce was never finalized. While she does acknowledge that the two were living separately at the time of Larry’s death, Shawn contests that the handwritten note (which was riddled with grammatical errors) was written: “under questionable circumstances.”
According to the former actress, Larry did not actually want to divorce her. Apparently, the two were seeing a marriage counselor, and Larry was interested in working things out. Hmm. Sounds a bit fishy, but nevertheless, Shawn has lawyered up.
Shawn plans on getting her share of her late husband’s estate, even if that means badmouthing Larry. According to her lawyer, Larry was “highly susceptible to outside influences” and “of questionable mental capacity” during his last years.
Shawn also says that the couple’s sons, Chance, and Cannon, were “shocked” to learn that she was written out of the will. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next! A court date is set for Mach 25, 2021. Hopefully, everything will work out, and Larry King’s family can take the next steps in grieving his death.