52: Larry King

52: Larry King

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 52 •
LARRY KING

Broadcast journalist and interviewer, host of CNN’s nightly Larry King Live for twenty-five years

Not long ago I received a wonderful letter from Billy. He sent me a copy of his newest book and wrote the following:

My Dear Larry:

I have been mulling over for a couple of weeks what to say after hearing news reports that may or may not be true. If I heard it correctly, you were quoted saying that your biggest fear is death because you don’t know where you’re going, and that you want to be frozen when you die to be brought back later. Of course I don’t know exactly what you said but I couldn’t let it go by without writing to you at this very special time of the year, when Hanukah begins tomorrow and Christmas this weekend.

Our friendship goes back a very long way. We’ve enjoyed many interesting conversations and interviews together, so I hope you will take this with the affection with which it is intended. A card I just received quoted Proverbs 30:4.

Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped the waters in his garments? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, or his son’s name? Surely you know.

From our conversations together you know my belief in Almighty God and His son Jesus Christ and my commitment to Him. Now that you are retired a little, I would urge you to make it a priority to ponder this important question a little more deeply.

With warmest affection,

Billy

P.S. I’m enclosing my new book, a current bestseller in The New York Times. I tried to inscribe it to you. Please excuse the dreadful handwriting. The signature, “Love, Billy,” is really scratchy!

The letter is typical Billy. He cares about me; he’s concerned about me; and he always tried to get me to share his beliefs, which I did not. But that has not affected my friendship with him or my respect for him.

As to what happens after death, and what happens to Jews like me, Billy says he doesn’t judge it. He says that the person at death may find Christ, but he doesn’t know what happens at death, and while he believes his route is the Route he would not make judgments on other people. This, of course, is contradictory. You’re saying it’s the Route but you’re not making judgments about other people. So I would question him, and always with pleasure since I liked him so much. I’d say, “Billy, are you saying Jews are going to hell?” And he would reply something like, “No, I’m not saying that because I don’t know what happens to them at their death.”

It’s an awfully difficult question for evangelists, “born agains,” and true Christians to answer, so he answered it as best he could. In fact, I just don’t think he knows. He believes what he believes. I firmly believe he is not afraid of death, and there’s no charlatan aspect to Billy. I respect him but I don’t share his beliefs.

What I like and respect about Billy are his gentleness and his intelligence and his understanding, his grasp of things. He would have been a success at anything. He could have been a very successful politician, broadcaster, storyteller. He was a great, great presenter. The purpose of a speech is either to entertain or move the audience or take them in your direction, and he certainly did that well. So I think he is an extraordinary guy.

Like some politicians and people in the entertainment world, he has a lot of charisma. He’s outgoing, he relates well, he cares. People are attracted to him for those reasons. He changes a room when he walks in. His size, his voice, his warmth, they all have an effect. Some people have that quality. Bill Clinton does, for example. I’ve interviewed hundreds of world leaders and celebrities during my time as the host of Larry King Live on CNN for over twenty-five years. I’ve seen how some people change a room simply by being in it. Billy is one of those guys. He’s a little stooped over now, not the same person he was physically, but in his prime he was a handsome man. Wonderful voice.

Charisma such as that is unexplainable. I know it when I see it. It is what it is, and you either have it or you don’t. You can’t give it to someone. You can’t teach someone how to be charismatic. It’s just one of those things that life presents you. Billy would think that it is God Who gave it to you. I have no idea about that. I just don’t know.

Billy told me he thought I was very spiritual, and that while I may not think there is a God, that God really loves me and God put me on this earth to do what I did and be successful at it, and He was an instrument in my life. It makes you think when someone says that to you, even though I don’t believe it. Although I was raised in a religious home, I don’t believe in God. Jews are taught to question. That’s one of the things I loved about Judaism. But the more I questioned, the less I knew. I got no answers. My rabbi didn’t tell me he understood why the Holocaust happened. Too many people say, “We do not question the ways of the Lord.” One of the best things a rabbi said to me was “It doesn’t matter if there is a God or not. Just do good in the world.” To me, if you’re going somewhere you’re going somewhere. If you’re not, you’re not. The only thing I know is that I don’t know.

Billy has always been kind to me. He flew here to come to my wedding, not to officiate but just to be at the ceremony. He’s been on my show a multitude of times, radio and television. He never turned me down. I’ve never known a moment of him being ungracious.

The unhappiest and saddest moment for me was when I confronted him over the anti-Semitic conversation he had with President Nixon that was uncovered after the White House tapes were released. Nixon said, “Well, you know, the Jews…” and Billy said, “Yes…” I asked him about that, and he said that the toughest thing, if you were in a room with a president, and a president said something, is to take issue with him. So you either said yes or you nodded your head or suchlike. I didn’t agree with Billy on this. For me, you don’t say yes. I wouldn’t have said yes. That disappointed me.

Having said that, there were many positives in his dealings with Presidents. He helped deepen the faith of George W. Bush when, many years before he became President, George had lost his way. Billy met with him and turned him around. Billy brought Nixon and John F. Kennedy together after the presidential election in 1960. Billy knew both Kennedy and Nixon pretty well. He was cautious about President Kennedy’s Catholicism but after a while came round on that. He liked Jimmy Carter’s faith, and he liked the Reagans very much, too.

As his recent letter shows, Billy has kept in touch with me over the years. He would always send me little remembrances; every book he wrote he sent me autographed. I would hear from him upon other occasions too — wishing me the best on my birthday or when I got an award, such as going into a hall of fame. Any good thing that happened to me along the road, I usually heard from Billy. He is very sweet, very genuine. With Billy, what you see is what you get. He walks the walk.

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