Friends, Nigerians, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to parody Wole Soyinka and William Shakespeare, not to plagiarize them. I come to weep with words in a world brutalized and decimated by death. In my solitude, I come to echo the poet S.T. Coleridge in the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Coleridge who wrote these beautiful sad lines: “The many men, (and women) so beautiful! And they all dead did lie.” I come to write about death too many to count, too deadly beyond comparison in human history.
Death is the biggest news in town today. Not just the biggest in town but biggest in the whole big but small world. Everywhere you turn, it’s the news of death that keeps growing. Death on front page. Death on back page. Death on prime time. Death by virus in diverse variants. COVID death. The race in search of vaccine. The discovery of vaccine. Now, it’s distribution problem. Supply chain disruption—to use that management buzzword.
Death is the only news now. It’s the biggest news on CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and all the major channels. Death in the combat garb of Adolf Hitler taking men and women, old and young, like the six million Jews, taken to the gallows, to the gas chambers, to the ICU’s and theatres of death that make doctors and nurses cry.
Death wreaking havoc. Pandemic. Pandemonium. Ajakaye-arun in my mother tongue. My daddy used to tell me about a killer pandemic that seized the world in his youthful days. I don’t need to tell my children anything. The pandemic is being televised! They are watching it live!
Death creating its own global fashion of protective masks to be worn by all, including school-bound infants in branded school buses, on morning ride to school wearing those masks of life and death. Today’s kindergarten kids who would be tomorrow’s fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers. Kids who as eyewitnesses of today’s pandemic sorrow will live someday to tell their sons, daughters and grandchildren tales of deaths they saw in their cruel childhood. Death claiming more lives than all the two World Wars combined. Death that forbids gathering. Death that forbids handshake. Death that hates old age. Death that targets mostly the aged citizens of our global village. Coronavirus death that killed the legendary Larry King at 87 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles. Larry King, the king of talk shows, the king of interviews, the king to whom every world leader came to tell his or her story to the world. Larry King whose real name is Larry Zeiger, the son of Jewish immigrants whose parents and kinsmen suffered death in Nazi Concentration Camps and got consumed in the great holocaust lit by Adolf Hitler and his evil cohorts. Larry King who painfully lost his father as a nine-year-old, who grew to love the radio and lived to fulfill his dream of being a radio broadcaster from where he moved to television and became a global icon on CNN. Oh, who can forget Larry King with his trademark suspenders and the unique booming baritone that sounds like no other in the whole world? Larry King is gone. There can never be another.
Around 2009, in my travel to Dubai with my twin brother and departed friend Pastor Dimgba Igwe, I bought a copy of Larry King’s book, “My Remarkable Journey,” which he wrote with Carl Fussman, a writer-at-large for Esquire Magazine. The book had been adorning my bookshelf unread for over a decade now. It took the death of Larry King for me to open the book with a view to reading it to know the real Larry King. A man who was not so lucky with women. He was married eight times. “My Remarkable Journey” was dedicated “To the women in my life/My wife, Shawn Southwick-King, who gets the civilian purple heart and Wendy Walker, my executive producer and, more importantly, my friend.” The marriage with Shawn lasted for 22 years. According to reports, they separated in 2008 when allegations of the wife cheating surfaced online. And she admitted so. They made up at a point, but divorced in 2019 on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences.” In his book, Larry also remembers his kids, devoting a space to them in the following words: “The reason there’s nothing better than fatherhood is what it produces. In my case, it produced: Andy, Larry Jr., Chaia, Chance, and Cannon. They are my reason for being.” This is how Larry King sums up his media odyssey in an opening chapter: “What am I doing here?” He writes: “I have to pinch myself to believe that little Larry Zeiger from Brooklyn is being beamed 22,300 miles into space, bounced off a satellite so that some guy in Taipei can watch me ask questions along with people in 200 other countries and territories around the world. Was it really me, the kid who never went to college, who set up that million-dollar scholarship at George Washington University? Who got into a traffic accident with John F. Kennedy and came to know every president since Nixon? Who had Frank Sinatra sing to me while the two of us were alone in the greenroom? Who walked with Martin Luther King Jr. and then sat down with King’s murderer?”
On a chapter on interviewing titled “The Presidents,” Larry King reveals that when he is interviewing a plumber, he gives everything he has as if he is interviewing the president of a country. “Sometimes when a major interview comes up, I’ll hear, ‘Hey, you’ve got to be at the top of your game tonight.’ You know, put a little something extra into the show. People say it because they’re juiced. But it always offends me. Does that mean I shouldn’t put in a little something extra when I am talking to the plumber? Of course, when I go to interview the president, I’m aware that I’m with the president. But if I treated him differently from the way I treat anyone else, I’d lose being me.”
He continues: “I’ve become friendly with every president since Richard Nixon. The more time I’ve spent with them, the more human they appear—especially after they leave office. Gerald Ford once started slurring while I was interviewing him. We had to cut the interview short, and he had a stroke later in the day. George H. Bush became teary while opening up about the loss of his daughter.”
President Bill Clinton’s comments at the back of the book, is a befitting epilogue: “For the last half-century, Larry King has given an amazing array of people the chance to tell their stories and made them accessible to millions of people. Now he tackles perhaps his most interesting subject yet: his own story. Like all of Larry’s work, it’s insightful and engaging, a reflection of his unique combination of a big heart, a fine mind, and an unquenchable desire to understand everything and everybody.”
Glued to CNN all day and all night, I watched and listened to Larry King flashbacks. I watched Larry King being eulogized in documentaries, Larry King being remembered in touching tributes from the people he trained and mentored. I call them “the King’s horsemen.” Death and the King’s Horsemen indeed, as Wole Soyinka titled his epic drama. Life indeed is a drama. I can imagine Larry King in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), looking back on his life, wishing he could just interview Mr. Coronavirus alias COVID-19 on what the hell is going on in the world today, killing people with the savagery of Adolf Hitler. Adieu King. When you get there, try and get an interview with the other King: Martin Luther King Jr. Now, that you are free at last, sleep on.