Legends from the worlds of politics, music, television and film came together on Friday, June 19 at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles to mourn the death and celebrate the life of late television producer Michael King.
From President Bill Clinton to Sylvester Stallone to Don Henley, the stars came out in full force to pay tribute to a man who not only built a TV empire, but according to the evening's speakers, was a loving father, friend and philanthropist.
King, whose company King World Productions spearheaded the syndication of Wheel of Fortuneand Jeopardy and created The Oprah Winfrey Show and Dr. Phil, died suddenly on March 27 of complications from pneumonia at the age of 67, leaving behind his wife, Jena, and children Ali,Audrey, Teddy, and Jesse.
The evening commenced to the tune of "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes, followed by a touching speech by King's friend, former President Bill Clinton. "If the length of our lives were determined by merit, he would have lived to be 150," Clinton told the audience of close to 400 friends and family.
After hearing emotional speeches from King's oldest children, the already teary-eyed crowd listened to a song by saxophonist Kenny G, which didn't leave a dry eye in the house. But as Michael's brother Robert then told everyone, "He would not want us to mourn his death, he'd want us to celebrate." And so, the festivities commenced.
Producer and friend Jeff Wald kicked off the laughter, saying, "I was worried about going on after President Clinton, then I realized I couldn't do worse than George Bush."
Legendary producer Norman Lear followed up with, "There are people all over this town who would die to put a crowd like this together."
Though he was joking, it was a crowd that King, who was often compared to P.T. Barnum, would have loved to see. In the audience sat Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, Stallone and Jennifer Flavin, Bobby Kennedy Jr., Netflix's Ted Sarandos, producer Lawrence Bender, Joe Walsh andDon Henley from The Eagles, Tommy Chong, attorney Robert Shapiro, and David Foster.
Person after person spoke of King's generous heart and his love of life. Via video message, Oprah Winfrey said of King, "Here was a man who really knew how to live. He didn't just live big, he lived huge." Added Danson on stage, "I really felt Michael got to experience the joy of what it means to be human. He got to love and be loved."
More video messages of love came from Elton John, Whoopi Goldberg, and Sugar Ray Leonard, and the service wrapped up with a performance by Michael Bolton. Foster was last to speak, saying "I don't deserve to have the last word, so let's do this right. Everybody get up, scream, shout, and stomp your feet so wherever he is, he can hear us right now." The room trembled with noise and excitement.
In the end, even though King will be remembered as a genius businessman, it was his son Teddy's words that resonated the most. Said Teddy, "Until I was 12 years old, I didn't know what his job was. I just knew that he was my best friend."