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MAGAZINE / May-June 2006 / Interview with Larry King

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An Interview with Larry King

"King of Hearts"

Gary Barg: I don’t think that you would remember, but this is actually the second interview we’ve done together.

Larry King: When was the last one?

GB: It was 40 years ago. It was on a houseboat across from the Fountainbleu hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. I was about 10 years old and going to Camp Ocala.  You were interviewing the owners of the camp and they wanted to bring a camper on. I remember your being so nice to me, and I very much appreciated that.

LK: That was 41 years ago because that was in 1965. I’ve been in the business 49 years now.

GB: I remember it vividly. It was a very good experience for me.

LK: I remember the name Camp Ocala.

GB: You do?

LK: Sure.

GB:  I was watching the Muscular Dystrophy telethon last fall. It was terrific for you and Jerry Lewis to talk about the Hurricane Katrina tragedy—that’s what it’s all about—everybody pitching in and raising money.  I know the Larry King Cardiac Foundation also donated.

LK: We gave 25 thousand dollars and the Cordis Corporation gave 25 thousand dollars worth of stents. We’ve earmarked them for people who have been displaced, and who have no money to treat their heart problems.  So, we’re trying to play an active part, too.

GB: Could you tell me about the Larry King Cardiac Foundation?

Larry KingLK: In February of 1987, I had a heart attack, and subsequently in December of 1987, I needed quintuple bypass surgery. About a year later when I was recovering—I stopped smoking and began to take care of myself when I never had before—we were sitting around and someone asked me how much it had cost. I had no idea because insurance covered it all. So I investigated and found out it was about $48 thousand and then someone said, “What about people who can’t afford it because they don’t have any insurance?” So we started an organization on a small scale called the Larry King Cardiac Foundation for those people who have no insurance or have just fallen through the cracks. The first year we helped an overweight high school coach get a new heart. That started it. Now, we put on two major events a year—one in Washington, D.C. and one in Los Angeles. We have major stars like Celine Dion. Every top star that you can think of has performed. It’s been unbelievable. We give the money, and we’ve helped over 300 people either get a new heart or heart procedure. We help children, people from other countries, and we’ve donated equipment to hospitals. Our goal is to save a heart a day. The advantage of it is that you see the person you help. It doesn’t go to research. It goes directly to help the doctors pick out people who are eligible. We work with various hospitals, and I am lucky enough to make the call to tell the people that we’re going to do the procedure for them or their children.

GB: How can a caregiver reach out to your organization?

LK: They can go to the website at or they can write to us. The website gives them all the contact information. They write to us or the doctor writes for them that they need this procedure, and that they are not covered for it or don’t have insurance. The doctor presents the case. Then a panel of doctors and cardiologists reviews the case and makes recommendations to the Board who makes the choice. The process works pretty quickly. We do some of it over the phone. We pick the party and the hospital does the surgery. We enlist the doctors. All of them cut their rates so we can do as many people as possible.

GB: And you’ve got a very impressive Board.

LK: Yes, we’ve got an impressive Board. A lot of people work for us. At our dinner in Washington, D.C., we really pour it on. We get a lot of help. It’s the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done—helping people. There’s no bigger kick than making that call. Then we visit the patients. Another thing is that if you come to the dinner, you get to see the patients. We fly them in or bring them to the dinner. It’s very rewarding.

GB: How can people support the mission of the foundation?

LK: You can come to the dinners. I donate the royalties from my books and I give a percentage of the proceeds from the speeches I give. But people can help by going directly to the website.

GB: And people can donate there?

LK: Yes, people can donate right there to the Larry King Cardiac Foundation. Corporations back us pretty well. FedEx contributes as does the drug company Lilly. So we have some corporations behind us. The Washington Redskins are very active as well.

GB: Statistics are showing that  36% of caregivers will die before their loved ones do, and I was wondering if you had any advice for caregivers to become heart healthy.

LK: The one thing you can’t do anything about is your genes. Everything else you can do something about. My father died of a heart attack when he was 47. I inherited that gene. My brother did not have a heart attack but needed heart surgery six months after I did. My children have to be regularly checked. Odds are my children have the gene as well. Now, they have to do what I do. You can’t defeat the gene but you can stop smoking and exercise. I smoked three packs a day. I always thought it would never happen to me. I did some stupid things. I would buy the pack of cigarettes and read the warnings on the pack and that bothered me. Take Yul Brenner. He made a tape before he died. You can see him saying, “I’m dead now. Don’t smoke.” Whenever that commercial came on, I ran to the TV to change the channel because it wasn’t going to happen to me. But it did happen to me. So eat the right foods, watch what you eat, and keep your cholesterol down. There are amazing medicines out there. There are drugs that my father did not have like Lipitor. If you can keep you weight down, keep your cholesterol down, exercise regularly, watch yourself and make sure to react to pain. Don’t treat pain lightly. Pain is a wonderful thing. The reason it is wonderful is that it is an indicator. Someone once asked me, “ If you had one wish, what would it be?” And I said I wish to have no pain. And that, of course, would be terrible. I’d die of appendicitis or a heart attack because I wouldn’t know something was wrong. I react to pain. If I get a pain, I take it seriously. Don’t be afraid to bug your doctor. Ask your doctor, “What is this?”

GB: You believe that people need to partner with their doctor.

LK: Yes, partner with your doctor. There are some people who say they don’t want to bother him or her. But that’s what they are there for.

GB: People are afraid of being a bother because they think it’ll affect their loved one’s care.

LK: You’re not a bother. You should be there. You don’t want to tell doctors what to do, but you have every right to be kept up to date. Ask “What’s happening?” “Why is it happening?” Second opinions are very important. Doctors can be wrong, too. You have to be proactive, and you have to be loving. And, it’s very good to have a doctor who knows the emotional side, too. A hand holder is very good as well as an upbeat doctor rather than a low-key doctor. And that’s important because we are all terminal. So no doctor should ever say, “You’ve got a week to live.” This should not be said because no one knows.

GB: Don’t be afraid of firing your doctor.

LK: Absolutely, don’t be afraid. You are the client. People are so afraid of their doctors. They don’t want to tell them if they don’t feel well.

GB: Do you have one piece of advice you can give to family caregivers?

LK: To be proactive—to be there. Don’t treat your loved one with pain lightly. Take them seriously. If you have a wife who is depressed and says something like, “I could kill myself,” take that seriously. In other words, be there. Those are the two best words.

GB: Those are terrific two words. I appreciate your time.

LK: My pleasure.


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