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Star Power: What Larry King Wants in His Obituary

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Star Power: A six-pack of questions for celebs making a difference.
Craig and Marc Kielburger, founders of Free The Children and Me to We, check in with some of their favourite actors, singers and activists to find out how they are changing the world.

Our first interview with Larry King was a wonderful surprise. He was a last-minute fill in at We Day Alberta when another speaker had to postpone. We weren't sure how the 79-year-old broadcast legend would connect with our young crowd. Most were in elementary school when King was at the helm of his self-titled show, which ruled CNN for 25 years, from 1985 to 2010.

There was no need to be concerned. King held the young crowd rapt from the moment he name-dropped Twilight's Taylor Lautner, with whom he'd recently shared a flight. During our on-stage interview, we turned the tables and asked him the questions, ranging from his civil rights heroes to lessons he'd gleaned from world leaders. By the end, the crowd was on their feet chanting "Larry King! Larry King!" Seriously.

He sure knows how to tell a story. We talked to him later about heroes, life-changing moments and what he'd like his legacy to be.

On any given day, we know some of the greatest issues of our time are education, peace building or poverty. What is your biggest issue?

Health. Probably because I had a heart attack, I used to smoke, I had heart surgery, I formed a cardiac foundation that my wife is chairman of and my son is president of. We just passed a health care bill in America that finally takes care of some of these things, but unfortunately America is a country where you need insurance. So we try to take care of those who don't have insurance. We try to save a heart a day.

Who is your hero?

Well my heroes were in broadcasting. When I was a kid I always wanted to be on the radio. So Arthur Godfrey, a name you might not know but was a famous American radio personality, Edward R. Murrow, a famous broadcaster. Red Barber, a sportscaster. I wanted to be like them, I wanted to be on radio or television. So I looked up to them. They were guiding lights. I never imitated them but I admired so much what they did.

I also had sports heroes. I'm a sports freak. Jackie Robinson, the first black athlete in baseball. I saw him play his first game. I interviewed him in later life. Joe DiMaggio. Sugar Ray Robinson. Muhammad Ali.

If you had a socially conscious super power and could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

I would do away with all nuclear weapons. I would ban them. I would destroy them in the sea and leave all nations without them so that my children would not have to grow in fear of someone attacking them and some accident happening.

Can you describe an experience or moment that inspired you to give back?

I always felt that successful people, any kind of success, owe something back. Because I have always been aware in life of luck. People who are successful and deny luck are liars. Luck plays a part in everything. What if I didn't go out that day and meet that guy on the street who told me to go down to Miami and try to break into radio? What if I had to go to the bathroom and I didn't meet him? Paul Newman [the actor] told me that luck always plays a part in life. And we always need someone to help us. Anyone who says they did it all on their own is also a liar.

Throughout your life you have given back in many ways. What was the experience that provoked your willingness to help others?

I was on relief when I was a kid. My father died when I was nine and a half and I knew what it was like to be very, very poor. The City of New York bought my very first pair of glasses. I will never ever forget that. I will never forget the meat inspector coming to our door to see what kind of meat my mother was feeding us. Was she buying too top a grade of meat because New York City was paying for our food -- for two years. New York City was paying our rent, too. So I have always understood what it is like to be without.

Looking back on your life, if you could give your high school self advice, what would it be?

Never give up when things look the bleakest. There will always be a tomorrow and when you look back, the biggest worries I had weren't that test on Monday, that girl who didn't return my phone call, that sad day my team lost. It will be better. But don't ever give up. If you want something, pursue it. I don't know where it came form. But I was driven. But the goal was never to make money. The wealth is a by product. I wanted to dominate on the air. I was just as happy when I was making $50 a week, as when I was making a lot more. Because what I was doing made me happy.

What is the best piece of advice that you've gotten from a parent or mentor?

Well my mother spoiled me, because my father died when I was nine, so anything from her would probably be bad advice. If I wanted something she gave it to me.

I don't know if it came from me, or I got it from someone, but a rule of life that took to heart in broadcast, is that I never learned anything when I was talking. So that forced me to listen and to know that I didn't know everything and when I'm speaking now I'm not learning anything.
Arthur Godfrey, a great broadcaster for CBS, told me that the only secret in your business is there is no secret. Just be yourself. I have carried that every day of my broadcast life. When I go on the air, I'm the same as when I'm off the air. It ain't brain surgery. Just be yourself. And that is good advice to anyone.

In the future, what would you like people to say about you? What kind of legacy would you like to leave?

Well I'll tell you what I'd like my obituary to read: 'The oldest man in the world died today at age 173. He died in bed making love to a woman and they couldn't wipe the smile off his face.' What I would like them to say is that 'through his interviews he added to the knowledge of the society he was around. Opportunity gave him a camera and a microphone and pen and he had the opportunity to communicate knowledge to others.'

Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than 100,000 attendees. For more information, visit www.weday.com

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