Remembering Larry King

What the legend taught us about mastering the art of positive conversation.

Posted Jan 28, 2021

Pileggi Pawelski
Larry King and his wife Shawn King interviewing Suzie and James in 2018.
Source: Pileggi Pawelski

We paced anxiously in the green room. Butterflies in our stomach. Adrenaline in our veins. Excitement in the air. Such a great opportunity awaited us. Would we screw it up? What if we said the wrong thing? Suddenly, our thoughts were interrupted by the producer’s cue. We walked out into the bright lights of the set and sat in chairs directly opposite the broadcasting legend. The interview began. Mere moments into the conversation we knew we were in safe hands. The tension eased, and we relaxed into our chairs, feeling as if we were chatting with a longtime friend rather than radio and television icon Larry King.

Along with the rest of the world, we mourn the loss of Larry King—not just a legend, but a sensitive human being full of kindness, wit, and an insatiable curiosity.

We feel honored to have been one of the more than 50,000 interviews Larry conducted over his 60-year career. He, along with his wife Shawn King, interviewed us three years ago at the launch of our book Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts, which he was also kind enough to endorse. Little did we know at that time that this was just the beginning and that we would have an opportunity to work closely with Larry, getting to know him on a more personal level as part of a very special project.

While everyone knows about Larry’s unparalleled broadcasting career, during which he interviewed seemingly every major newsmaker for decades, few people know what a philanthropist he was and how much he gave back to the world. 

When COVID broke out, Larry wanted to help. He teamed up with Positive Voices to create a free online video interview series called “Coping with COVID.” We are grateful to have been able to contribute to this series as well. 

Larry and James co-hosted the weekly series, interviewing leading positive psychology researchers who shared evidence-based advice for how best to cope with the pandemic. And Suzie worked behind the scenes with the production team. The International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) helped share the evidence-based interviews with their wide network. 

Continuing our collaboration, we created an interview series called “Positive Conversations,” showcasing scholars, legends, leaders, and celebrities. Candid conversations can change lives for the better, something that inspired and fueled Larry throughout his life. We fondly recall Larry’s passion for these interviews and can still hear him exclaiming, “This was great, James! When are we doing the next one?”  

 Positive Voices
Larry and James co-host "Coping with Covid" and "Positive Conversations" series.
Source: Positive Voices

Larry's enthusiasm was contagious. Each week we excitedly looked forward to the interviews with Larry. And the guests did as well. Like us three years ago, they were exuberant—and nervous—to be interviewed by the legend. And like us, they soon felt at ease as the interview began, with Larry’s disarming nature, direct questions, and intense curiosity.

Unlike other hosts who like to set their guests up, hoping for salacious details or at least controversy, Larry was a straight shooter who sincerely sought to understand. He listened intently, focused on learning, and had no ulterior motive.

In the last year of his life, Larry was dealing with a number of ongoing health issues that rendered him weak at times, but he battled through them. When the lights went up, so did his energy. He liked to quote his doctor’s opinion that what kept him going through his many health challenges was his “indomitable spirit.”

Larry volunteered his time and used his celebrity to help spread positive psychology research at a time when the world needed it most. Throughout his career he consistently used his platform for good, elevating individuals and organizations. 

We feel blessed to have been able to work with him, getting to know the man behind the legend, and finding a generous human being filled with kindness, curiosity, and zest. His deep interest in other people and his nonjudgmental listening make him a powerful role model for our times, exemplifying strengths we would all do well to emulate.

We are deeply grateful to Larry for spending so much of his life—and so many of his final days—helping others, and we send our sincere condolences to his cherished family. Larry’s legacy and indomitable spirit continue to live on, inspiring us all.

References

Larry King Now on Ora.tv. Suzann and James Pawelski on building happy relationships. January 17, 2018. https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6d8p0t

Pileggi Pawelski, S & Pawelski, J. (2018). Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. New York: TarcherPerigee.