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Former 'Larry King Live' producer remembers late television giant

Todd Polkes said that Larry King was interested in everyone and “treated everyone like a pal from Brooklyn.”
/ Source: TODAY

Larry King was the embodiment of a masterful interviewer.

Throughout his illustrious six-decade-long career, King became known for his straight-to-the-point questions, the iconic suspenders, and an innate ability to listen.

The TV legend passed away at age 87 on Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. His death was announced in a statement released by Ora Media to his Twitter.

Todd Polkes, a former senior producer for “Larry King Live,” opened up to TODAY about some of his memories of his time working with the late television giant. Polkes, who now works as a supervising talent producer at “The View,” said that King gave him his big break, and was a “very generous, kind man.”

“This is an example of his generosity: each holiday he would give every staff member a personal check for $1,000 no matter what their role was on the show,” Polkes said. “That is something that is kind of unheard of.”

Polkes said that everybody wanted to speak with King because he was able to bring out people’s personalities on the show due to his "simple, direct questions."

“He didn’t interrupt them a lot, so they really got a chance to speak,” he explained. “He also gave everybody an hour, or most people an hour, which is unheard of these days.”

He recalled some of the legendary names King interviewed, including Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor and Bette Davis, and the host’s ability to get them to open up.

“Larry was a smart guy, but he also at the same had no airs about him,” he said. “He used to hang out with the same group of people that he has since he was growing up in Brooklyn. He used to have breakfast with them every day at a restaurant in Los Angeles and he used to bring them to the show quite a bit, too. It helped keep him grounded."

Todd Polkes and Larry King.Todd Polkes / Instagram

He added, "It also lent an air about our show that it was like a barbershop type of atmosphere. You didn’t feel like you were at CNN, you felt like you were just hanging out with Larry and his friends sometimes.”

Polkes said that King loved the Dodgers, saying that when he was in Los Angeles, the host would go straight from the show to the game. He added that the TV legend was interested in everyone and “treated everyone like a pal from Brooklyn.”

“It was a natural quality he had that allowed him to be interested in so many different subjects," Polkes explained. "It definitely translated off-camera that he would interview that he would just meet in his daily life. Whether it was the server, the driver, he had a quality about him that put everybody at ease I think because people like talking about themselves. He was a very good listener, which is a quality that a lot of people don’t have so he would ask interesting follow-up questions because he actually listened.”

"He lived a full life," Polkes said. "And he met everybody in the world.”

Celebrities and colleagues have been reflecting on King's life across social media on Saturday.

Conan O'Brien shared a touching tribute to King on Instagram Saturday, writing, “Woke up to the very sad news that Larry King has passed.”

“For my entire career in television Larry was a generous and fearless friend who performed in outrageous skits with glee and skill of a vaudevillian," O'Brien continued. "Larry will be rightly lauded as a consummate broadcaster and interviewer, but he was also a hilariously funny and generous performer.”

Another fellow host, Jimmy Kimmel, shared a story reflecting on his childhood and the span of King's career, writing on Twitter, "When I was a young morning DJ, I listened to Larry King's overnight radio show every night on my way to work. He was one of the greats and I am glad to have known him." "Bethesda, Maryland you're on the air..."

Keith Olbermann also posted a poignant message about King, writing a thread of tweets remembering the late TV icon through a series of stories.

"My friend Larry King has died. It is literally true that thousands of us can make that sad statement this morning," he wrote. "While he was easily caricatured, I’ve never known anybody who made a bigger deal out of the slightest kindness afforded him."

"I don’t know how many of the thousands of us he genuinely treated this intensely and thoughtfully had that kind of professional element to the relationship," Olbermann continued. "But Larry was as smart about what would work on radio and TV as anybody I’ve ever known. And he cherished his friends.. and he cherished everything and anything they did for him and then tried to top whatever the gesture was."

For Polkes, he remembers King's dedication to his family above all, saying it was something that was of the utmost importance to him. His children, older and younger, were often fixtures backstage on set, and his family was there waiting in the wings on the last day of his show.

"He really loved his children a lot, too," Polkes said. "He was very much a family man."