Larry King had a dilemma recently but it was nothing a private jet couldn’t cure.
King, the broadcast icon who has conducted more than 40,000 interviews, needed to be at two parties this weekend, on both ends of the country. The dilemma: He is so devoted to both causes that he couldn’t miss either. So, the 73-year-old decided to crisscross the country in 36 hours to attend both.
Tonight, in Palm Beach, King will be honored at a black-tie gala for his efforts to increase public awareness about mental illness during his 50-year broadcasting career.
Tomorrow, in Los Angeles, his son, Chance, will celebrate his 8th birthday.
“Thank God for private planes,” King said during a phone interview this week.
For King, both events are personal. Mental illness has touched his family and his friends. There is suicide on his wife’s side of the family. King’s brother suffered from a depression so severe that he couldn’t leave his home for six months.
Some of his closest friends have had depression, and King went public about his bout of depression after a heart attack.
“What was most puzzling to me, I would be crying and not know why I was crying,” King said. It was on a flight to Miami that he finally was diagnosed — by retired Gen. Alexander Haig — who had had a heart bypass and was familiar with post-heart attack depression, King said.
King was treated with antidepressants for about six months. Although his depression hasn’t returned, he hasn’t forgotten: “The tough part is distinguishing between depression and bad news.”
The tipping point in King’s coverage of the stigma surrounding mental illness came on April 22, 1996, during an interview with actress Naomi Judd, Dr. Kay Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind, and two close friends, newsman Mike Wallace and columnist Art Buchwald.
The interview flowed. No one was ashamed or embarrassed. Wallace talked candidly about taking Zoloft. Buchwald made a few wisecracks and said he took lithium. Judd said therapy was crucial to her recovery. Jamison urged viewers to keep trying if at first the medications didn’t seem to work.
In the midst of the interview King realized something extraordinary was happening.
“I knew it was amazing as it was happening,” King said. “I knew we had broken ground.”
Copies of the show quickly became the most requested, ever. CNN aired reruns and the program was shown on college campuses around the country.
Over the years, a barrage of celebrities opened up on King’s show and described their battles with their own diseases. Margot Kidder, Lois Lane to Christopher Reeve’s Superman, told King’s viewers about wandering the streets of Los Angeles for six days, convinced the CIA was after her.
Brooke Shields, Mariel Hemingway, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Kennedy and Carrie Fisher — among many others — opened up. Then there was Tom Cruise.
– Justice Anderson, Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, quoted atWhat judges have to say about Scientology
“I like Tom a lot,” King said. But he disagrees with Cruise’s stance on psychiatry and antidepressants. After the controversy, in which Cruise questioned Shields’ postpartum depression, Cruise gave King a private tour of a Scientology’s new museum in Hollywood called Psychiatry: An Industry of Death.
“Their attack on psychiatry is incredible,” King said. “They hate psychiatry.”
But King believes mental illness is real. Over the years, he watched some of the titans of journalism come out of the closet about their battles. There was Tom Johnson, CEO of CNN, “the best boss” who would go out and “work the troops” in the newsroom dishing out compliments, then “go back into his office and lie there on the floor for two or three hours.”
King said he was also stunned to find out that Mike Wallace had suffered so much.
“The most amazing thing about Wallace is that he worked through it,” King said. “He had it every day and he worked through it.”
Original title: King proves even jet-setters feel blue