Shawn Southwick, Larry King’s widow and the only one of his seven wives to stay married to him, isn’t bitter — but could have been.
Southwick married the legendary broadcaster in 1997, 43 years after King’s first marriage, at age 20, to Frada Miller, a girlfriend from his native Brooklyn when he was still Larry Zeiger. Miller and King lasted less than a year; their marriage was annulled and King once said he wouldn’t know Miller if he ran into her on the street.
Southwick, in contrast, had staying power, and, her friends say, the steeliness needed when going up against the iconic interviewer whose genial on-air persona belied an often difficult, verbally abusive and unfaithful side.
Throughout their 23-year marriage, the 61-year-old former singer and actress — who was 26 years King’s junior — was often painted as a trophy wife who cheated on King, Southwick told The Post.
“My son went to school once and one of his classmates said his mother was a gold digger,” Southwick told The Post. “If only. I’ve spent 23 years looking for those nuggets.”
Instead, say friends of Southwick, it was King who cheated on her, “uncontrollably and for years.” One of those other women was reportedly Southwick’s own younger sister, Shannon. Rumors of the affair were published by TMZ and Huffington Post in 2010. (Shannon denied that she was ever more than friends with King, who she called a “father figure.”)
In the latter years of their marriage — they filed for divorce twice in 2010 and 2019 but neither was ever finalized — Southwick had to contend with smear campaigns.
“His people tried to polish Larry up and dirty me down,” Southwick said. “There were so many lies about me. I do admit to one affair and I’m ashamed of it, but there was only one and it was after many years.”
Toby Simon (left), Mickey Sutphin, Larry King, and Sutphin’s sister, Betty are seen at King and Sutphin’s wedding in 1963.
That Larry King was unfaithful and ethically challenged is not a revelation. A devastating 1997 Vanity Fair profile detailed King’s compulsive womanizing, as well as his bankruptcies, larceny arrest, and how he “scammed loans from banks.”
“Shawn was a saint,” Southwick’s longtime friend told The Post. “Shawn just wanted to keep the family together but she’s been dragged through the mud. And deep down I know Larry loved Shawn.”
The feeling was mutual, at least some of the time.
“We had some spectacular, otherworldly experiences but they were juxtaposed with very painful moments,” Southwick told The Post. “Even so, I still loved him. I could have left him but I felt like a woman warrior battling for my family, for my boys. Larry was a good father and my boys loved him. But I knew if I left Larry, he’d probably marry again right away and have more babies. And my sons would be pushed to the back of the line.”
Unlike Frada Miller, who probably got nothing when her marriage to King ended, Southwick is the executrix of King’s estate. Though it’s been reported he had a $150 million fortune, insiders say King was notoriously bad with money and left well under $50 million. Southwick will probably walk away with about $10 million. Her two sons with King, Chance, 21, and Cannon, 20, as well as King’s son Larry Jr., 59, by his third wife Alene Akins, are well provided for according to the trust, sources told The Post.
Southwick, a longtime TV entertainer and the daughter of a record executive, met King when they bumped into each other at Tiffany’s in LA. He asked her out after a few minutes of conversation. Southwick said yes, but added she was not looking for a relationship.
“That was like waving a red flag in front of a bull,” she recalled.
“From that point on, Larry was relentless. He would not stop calling. He had Colin Powell call me when he was interviewing him. During our first date he arranged to have his friend Al Pacino stop by our table. When Larry wanted you, he brought out the big guns.”
Longtime Washington reporter Sandra McElwaine gave an idea of some of King’s moves when she told Vanity Fair about visiting his apartment to interview him.
“And he’s sitting at one end of this big glass coffee table, and I’m sitting at the other end, and we’re doing this interview,” she recounted. “At the end, I said, ‘Is there something you want to do with your life that you haven’t done?’ At which point, he says ‘Yes!’ and the next thing I know this creature in a jumpsuit has flung himself across a glass coffee table filled with sort of spiky objects. And I hear in my ear, ‘I want to kiss you.’”
“I have dined out on it for years,” she said. “But it wasn’t funny when it was happening.”
King’s antics with women were watercooler fodder in Washington DC during the heyday of his CNN show in the 1990s.
“There are women in Washington who can bring each other to weeping laughter by reciting their favorite Larry King pickup lines,” Vanity Fair reported. “‘I think there’s real chemistry here,’” he is apt to say on a first date. ‘Do you feel the chemistry?’ Or ‘Do you believe in love at first sight?’”
But once he had you, said Southwick and others, he was less attentive.
“We had such amazing times in the beginning,” Southwick said. “I remember standing in his apartment in Arlington, Virginia, with its view of the Capitol and feeling like the luckiest woman in the world. But that feeling didn’t last. It was hard to be Larry’s priority.”
Mickey Sutphin was Larry King’s fourth wife.
His many wives and friends said work always came first. King himself liked to say that if he got an urgent call from his wife and CNN at the same time, he’d take the CNN call.
“Work truly is his only life, the only thing that matters to him,” Chuck Conconi, a Washington journalist who was once a close friend of King, told Vanity Fair. “Once, I said to [fourth wife] Sharon Lepore that I didn’t know what to get Larry for his birthday. And Sharon said, ‘Get him an ON THE AIR sign for his bedroom.’”
Herb Cohen, the author and famed professional negotiator who called King his best friend, first met Larry when they were 10-year-olds at elementary school in Bensonhurst. He said he talked to him every day almost up to the moment he died.
“In spite of the fact that he got married so much, Larry had a lot of respect for women,” Cohen told The Post. “Back in those days, if you wanted to sleep with a woman, you married her. It was way before the pill and also people were very worried about getting a venereal disease. You didn’t just shack up with people.”
Cohen is one of the few people alive who can say they knew King’s first wife. King wrote in his 2009 book, “My Remarkable Journey,” that he and Frada “got an apartment in Queens with a white couch. But it never amounted to anything. We were together for maybe six months.”
“Frada was a nice person but Larry was ‘adventurous,’ let’s just say, so it didn’t work out,” Cohen said. “She was not his high school sweetheart. He married her when I was in the Army. She was conservative and stable. The last I knew of her she was working in a Brooklyn bakery.”
King married Annette Kaye in 1961, but divorced her after just one year. He did not meet their son, Larry Jr., now 59, until he was in his 30s.
Next came former Playboy Bunny Alene Akins, who King married in 1961, divorced in 1963, remarried in 1967, and divorced again in 1972. They had a daughter, Chaia, and King adopted her son, Andy.
Cohen said never met Mickey Sutphin, an environmental biologist who was married to King briefly in the narrow gap between his marriages to Akins. They met when King and Sutphin worked together at a Miami radio station.
“Larry started getting into a lot of difficulty during that time with these wives,” Cohen recalled.
Sutphin, who married King in April 1963 and divorced him in December 1966, does not remember King fondly. The couple had a daughter, Elyssa Kelly, who was born in 1964.
“I was not pregnant when we married despite what has been reported,” Sutphin, 82, told The Post. “At divorce, Larry was supposed to provide child support and health insurance. He did not. [Our daughter] needed two operations. When she was 9, she was adopted by my husband. Larry didn’t deserve her. He sent lots of dolls and giant pandas. After filing for adoption, investigations showed he was living the high life in Miami.”
Next up was Lepore, a math teacher and former TV production assistant, who married King in 1976.
“Larry had two loves,” Cohen told the Post. “One was Sharon Lepore and one was Shawn Southwick. Sharon was very intelligent, attractive and ambitious and Larry was very much in love with her. And he really loved Shawn. Shawn is not only nice, she is exceptionally stunning. She and Larry had a very close relationship and they really loved their boys.”
Julie Alexander became Larry King’s sixth wife but they divorced in 1992.Getty Images
Great love or not, Lepore only got $160,000 in alimony when their divorce finalized in 1984, court papers obtained by The Post show.
Her successor was Julie Alexander, a businesswoman King met at a charity event and married in 1989. They separated just a year later and divorced in 1992. Alexander told “Inside Edition” in 2010 that she suspected King cheated on her.
“It’s just been a story with Larry that the hardest thing for him to do was remain constant in a relationship,” Rama Fox, who was briefly engaged to King, told The Post. “He always had that need to prove that he was wanted.”
Fox, now 80 and living in Santa Barbara, Calif., met Larry in 1968 and they stayed friends for decades. They were romantically linked in the 1990s. She also became close to Julie Alexander.
Fox said King and Alexander “never really moved in together,” and that King would often seek out flings with a former wife. At one point both Fox and King were involved in bitter litigation and King showed his angry side in the deposition when he described Fox as “a greedy, money-grabbing hooker.”
“She’s bulls–t,” King said during the deposition in reference to Fox. “She’s bulls–t when she smiles to you.”
The marriage to Alexander, 73, ended bitterly. After King’s death on Jan. 23, Alexander told The Post that King gave her a sexually transmitted disease.
“I then couldn’t have children,” she said by phone from Florida. “That led to our separation.”
Southwick said Alexander is lying about the STD. She said she made King get tests prior to their 1997 wedding and he was “clean as a whistle.”
Larry King and Rama Fox were engaged for two years until they ended their relationship in 1994.
Details of the allegations remain sealed at the Arlington, Va., Circuit Court where the divorce was finalized, but the STD story leaked out at the time in a 1994 Washingtonian Magazine story. King’s lawyer at the time called the claim “outrageous, false.”
Alexander came out better in the financial settlement than Lepore. Reports at the time suggest she took home at least $1.1 million in alimony.
King stayed close to many of his exes. Both Alexander and Fox claimed they spoke with him in the weeks before his death.
King filed to divorce Southwick in 2019, three months after having a stroke, and it was apparently pending at the time of his death. King was vague as to why he decided to divorce her, citing only their age difference and how they had eventually become “ships passing in the night.” The move “totally blindsided” Southwick, she said.
Even so, the pair remained close up until he died, she said. King often FaceTimed her from Cedars Sinai Medical Center where he was being treated for Covid since early January. She said “Larry had a great fear of death because he was agnostic,” but gave Southwick instructions for his remains once he was gone.
“He wanted me to put an urn with his ashes over our bed,” she said. “With his voice broadcasting from them all night so I’d never forget him or sleep with anyone else.”