Harvey Mackay

Memories of Larry King

I wouldn’t be where I am today without Larry King. I’ll never forget the first time I met Larry. I was in New York to tape a television commercial for my first book, “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” I was a total unknown, a first-time author.

There, on the set, in living color, was Larry King, holding up his latest book and taping his own commercial.

We were introduced briefly when he finished. Then it was my turn on set. Ten minutes later, the director said we were done, and I headed for the elevator, where I saw Larry waiting. We made a little small talk on the way down. His stretch limo was curbside. I started to hail a cab.

He motioned to me and said: “Which way are you headed, kid?” and offered me a ride to my hotel.

I had five minutes to make an impression. Half the people might talk about themselves. The other half might mention how much they love Larry. However, my father taught me an important networking rule -- What can I do for the other person? How can I add value to his or her life?

I didn't know Larry's background. I didn't know a single characteristic, interest or goal that he and I had in common. Except the reason we had both gone to the studio.

I said: “Mr. King, I hope I'm not overreaching here, but I assume you, like I, showed up at that studio because we'd both like to sell a ton of books.”

Larry said, “That’s why I write ‘em, kid.”

The limo had now pulled up outside the entrance to my hotel. I may not have known anything about Larry, but I had done my homework on the publishing business. My self-designed, self-taught course had taken nearly six months. I had talked with over 30 authors, a slug of literary agents, a dozen publishers, a few promotional firms and six lawyers.

I proceeded to spill my guts on the book industry, and Larry told his driver to turn off the engine. He was now on the edge of his seat just staring at me and taking notes. Even the driver turned around to listen.

I gave Larry seven ideas over the next 20 minutes, and he invited me to be on his “Larry King Live” show on CNN the same week. I sold 50,000 copies of “Swim With the Sharks” that week alone. The Oprah Winfrey people saw me and put me on her show. Another 50,000 books sold. Then it was “Good Morning America,” and the rest is history.

Larry had me on his show for almost every book I’ve written, and we became very close friends. I was amazed when he told me he never read any author’s books before interviewing them. He wanted things to be fresh.

Even with all his celebrity, I never saw him refuse an autograph or photo, whether we were at breakfast, lunch, dinner or a social gathering.

Events with Larry were always memorable. He invited my Roundtable group to his Beverly Hills home, where he proceeded to entertain us with story after story. We learned that he always wanted to be a stand-up comedian.

But I think the highlight of our friendship was when he emceed a milestone birthday party for me in Las Vegas.

Larry loved boxing and Muhammad Ali. He once wrote in his column in USA Today that meeting Muhammad was “the biggest thrill in my life ... I couldn’t sleep last night ... chills running up and down my spine.”

One night I was having dinner with Larry in New York, and I brought Muhammad with me as a surprise. Suddenly a woman came up and said, “Oh, Mr. Mackay, I’ve read all your books ... Can I have your autograph?” Larry went nuts and said,

“Don’t you know who this is? This is Muhammad Ali. Don’t you want his autograph?”

I looked at Larry and said, "You bit it hook, line and sinker." I paid her $50 to come up and ask for my autograph. We were still laughing about that years later. But the point is don’t be boring. Don’t be predictable.

Larry’s curiosity about the world around him was legendary. His ability to draw people out was evident on every show. His loyalty made him a treasured friend.

It was sheer coincidence that our paths crossed that day. And I thank my lucky stars for that chance meeting.

Mackay's Moral: In networking, you're only as good as what you give away.