By Alan Duke
LOS ANGELES (CNN) — Larry King might be only person whose surprise birthday party guest list would include Pat Boone and Larry Flynt.
The talk show host turned 80 Tuesday, but the celebration started over the weekend when Boone, known for his conservative political views, serenaded King with “Happy Birthday” while Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine, watched.
The surprise party in the middle of Dodger Stadium, produced by wife Shawn King, also included Paul Anka delivering a custom rendition of his classic song “My Way.”
King left his CNN throne almost three years ago, but he’s staying busy as he begins his ninth decade. He hosts “Larry King Now” on Oro TV and his show is also seen online through Hulu. He still does daily radio segments on Cumulus stations.
“I thought I could retire, but I couldn’t,” he told CNN at his party. “I love doing what I do. I love asking questions. I love being in the mix.”
What is King’s secret to interview success?
“I leave my ego at the door; the guest counts,” King said. “I see a lot of guys now, the interview is more about them than the guests. I never use the word ‘I’ when I interview someone. I think it’s irrelevant.”
Between swings in the Dodger batting cage, Boone talked about King, who is just 6 months older. (Yes, Pat Boone can swing a bat surprisingly well at 79.)
King “invented the whole thing of celebrity interviewing,” Boone said. Their first interview together was more than nearly 50 years ago when King broadcast from a restaurant booth in Miami, he said.
Celebrities feel comfortable with King because they know he’s not trying to trap them, he said.
“He was never was trying to trap you or take advantage or present his own agenda, but inquisitive, truly inquisitive. So you never knew what he was going to ask. They were good and probing questions. You gave revealing answers, but you were more revealing because you thought you were talking to a friend.”
Longtime “Entertainment Tonight” host Mary Hart called King “wonderfully unique.”
“The network of friends that he has built up, throughout the world, no matter if it is political circles or celebrity circles, it is unparalleled,” Hart said.
Dr. Drew Pinskey said that the times he filled in for King — before hosting his own HLN show — made him realize “hard it was to do his job and how easy he made it look.”
King gives his guests a “spoonful of sugar” while “he’s sticking the shiv in you,” Pinskey said. “It’s pleasant and so fun that you don’t even realize it.”
Singer-songwriter Paul Anka became King’s friend during the Miami days in the 1960s.
“Larry never takes a real dirty run at you,” Anka said. “He always gets to the real deal without hurting anybody.”
“Entertainment Tonight” correspondent Jim Moret, who substituted as host on King’s CNN show at least 30 times, called him “a mentor, a friend.”
He expects King will be working for many more years.
“He told me that he wants his last question to be, ‘Guest, what’s it like being asked a question by a 118-year-old?’ ”
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