Most of us invite CNN’s Larry King in our family rooms on a regular basis, along with his guests for the night — perhaps President George W. Bush, Madonna or Julia Roberts.
But he also steps out of his TV world to come to his own family room in the Provo Riverbottoms, where he and his wife, Shawn Southwick-King, and their two young sons enjoy visiting.
“I like the people, I like the setting, I like the mountains,” Larry says, matter-of-factly. “I like everything about Provo.”
Shawn, who is part of the prominent Engemann family, says she keeps a home in Provo for “sanity.”
“It is our place to get away because it is safe, happy and beautiful,” Shawn says. “We love Provo.”
Coming to Utah Valley is coming home for the Kings.
“I’ve been there for so long that I feel like I know everybody there; the faces are familiar,” Shawn says. Of course, the Kings’ faces are familiar, too.
People occasionally stop them to say “I love your show,” or “Are you Larry King’s wife?”
The Kings have spent a lot of time in Provo in past years to see Shawn’s son Danny Southwick play high school football. He has signed to play for the BYU Cougars.
Now that he is on an LDS mission in Texas, the Kings spend most of their time in Beverly Hills, with trips to Provo for America’s Freedom Festival, family events and BYU sports — they plan to attend every home football game to see Shawn’s brother Bret play.
“We schedule our lives around whatever sports are happening at the time,” Shawn says.
LARRY ON UTAH
As a Jewish New Yorker who worked and lived on the East and West coasts, Larry wasn’t familiar with Utah.
“Before I met Shawn, the only people I knew from Utah had made it to the NFL or the Senate,” Larry says.
Larry describes his previous opinion of Utah as provincial, which he defines as not subject to change.
“Oh, Larry, Utah has seen tremendous growth in computers and technology industries,” Shawn points out.
“Well it must have been terrible before,” Larry jokes.
But Provo is making one change Larry is well-aware of.
“Provo gets baseball this summer,” Larry excitedly points out. In fact, the Provo Angels are having Larry King Day in August, and he will be there to throw out the first pitch.
Sports make Provo more appealing for Larry. In fact, he is a BYU Cougars fan.
“Now if Yeshiva (the oldest Jewish university in America located in New York City) ever played Brigham Young (in football), then I’d have a moral dilemma,” Larry says.
“You would root for the Cougars because they would win!” Shawn comes back.
Larry has to give her that one.
“I very much enjoy Provo, but I would have difficulty living there,” Larry admits. “I am used to more ethnicity; I like Poles, Irish, Jews, Israelis, so I couldn’t live there full-time, but it’s a great place to have a second or third house.”
LOVE AT FIRST GRUNT
Larry and Shawn met in late 1996 in front of Tiffany’s in Los Angeles.
“He grunted at me,” Shawn says.
“No, it was a Brooklyn acknowledgement that she is rather good-looking,” Larry corrects.
Luckily their first, rather brief conversation was not their last. They ran into each other again a few minutes later.
Larry told her, “If this keeps up, we’ll be in the tabloids.”
Things did keep up, and the two were married in September 1997 in the UCLA hospital. Although they had a lavish wedding planned, Larry ended up having heart surgery, which didn’t stop them from going ahead with the ceremony. Two months later they had a big reception with Ted Turner as the best man and Jane Fonda as the flower girl.
DADA AND MAMA
Now, nearly four years later, they have two boys: Chance is 2 and Cannon just turned 1. In fact, the boys are part of the interview.
“Why are you doing that,” Larry turns to say to the boys. “He’s mashing a pop tart into the carpet — kids have no conscience!”
Larry tells of when 1-year-old Cannon was chewing on a piece of cardboard. His older brother Chance’s reply was, “No eat box.” Larry cracks up.
Parenthood is top priority for this high-profile couple.
“Shawn is a terrific mother,” Larry says. “I love my wife and sons.”
This love is obviously strong enough to keep him living in what he calls a “zoo.”
“Yes, but it’s a fun zoo,” Shawn adds.
Zoo or no zoo, Larry and Shawn can’t easily give up their little animals.
The couple has yet to take a honeymoon, so they recently planned a trip to Paris. As the vacation neared, both of them were reluctant to leave the kids.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘We can’t leave the kids,’” Shawn says. “So we canceled the trip and took the kids with us somewhere in the states.”
Just like any set of parents, they banter about who really gets up with the kids in the night — although Shawn’s story sounds a little more believable.
A LITTLE BIT OF RELIGIOIN
Larry and Shawn take their young family to church every week in the LDS Westwood ward, where Shawn serves as a Relief Society teacher.
“Larry promised me that he would go to church with us every week,” Shawn says. “And he has done that.”
“I have great respect for the heads of the LDS Church, even though I’m not a big believer,” Larry says. “I do attend services, but it’s not my bag.”
Larry says he appreciates that no one has tried to proselytize him, with the exception of maybe his step-son, Danny.
“But he’s a missionary, so I can understand that,” Larry says.
The Kings love and respect President Gordon B. Hinckley, and Larry has interviewed him twice; they have also met with him personally on other occasions.
Shawn is impressed with President Hinckley’s range of conversation topics.
“You’d think the prophet would only be involved in spiritual matters, but he can discuss politics, entertainment and all the current events. He knows who was on Larry’s show the week before,” Shawn says.
FITTING IN WITH THE IN-LAWS
Larry’s mother-in-law also knows who is on his show.
“I get in trouble if I don’t watch!” Gerri Engemann laughs. “And when I see him on TV, I think ‘There’s my sweet Larry.’”
Gerri says although she was shocked when she first heard about Larry and Shawn, she wasn’t nervous to meet her new son-in-law.
“Having him in the family is certainly an adventure, and we love him,” Gerri explains.
Traditional mother-in-law jokes don’t seem to fit Gerri and Larry’s relationship. Of course, traditionally, the son-in-law is younger than his wife’s mother. But Larry fits in with the Engemanns easily.
“I love the Engemanns,” Larry says. “I think a lot of my in-laws, and I like being around them,” Larry says. “They know they are welcome to stay with us anytime.”
The Engemanns take him up on this offer frequently, and Larry will say to them, “OK, should we get Chinese or Italian tonight?”
Larry is a gracious host to his in-laws.
“Larry is very sweet, and there are lots of layers and facets to him,” Gerri says.
One thing that has endeared Larry to the Engemanns is also what has made him successful in broadcasting — he sincerely enjoys other people.
“Contrary to what some might think, Larry is not arrogant,” Gerri says. “He is very open and always willing to give someone else the credit.”
He’s also willing to share the blame.
“I wrecked Larry’s car,” Gerri admits. Larry previously had the reputation in the family for being the worst driver, so he enjoyed razzing his mother-in-law over her minor accident.
GIVING SHAWN A HARD TIME
One not-so-minor difference between Larry and the Engemann family is their respective senses of time.
In fact, Larry has come to be known as “Mr. Clockhead” in the family.
“I’ve brought a whole new concept to this family,” Larry says. “They are always late. To give Shawn a watch is to give her a piece of jewelry.”
Larry cites several examples of the Engemanns’ late trait. When the Engemanns are visiting, they attend the local LDS Church services.
“These people are believers, and they are still late,” Larry says. “I’m going because I want to be with my family, and I’m not late.”
Larry says doing live broadcasting for so many years has trained him to be aware of the time.
“One thing I like about President Bush is that he’s never late, and I love that,” Larry says, which is the first time in the conversation he reveals himself as something other than a family man.
“The only fight we’re going to have is the on-time thing because I want to raise my children to be on time,” Larry says.
“I’m happy for you to do that,” Shawn pipes in.
In fact, Shawn points out that Larry’s punctuality has rubbed off and that she is now no more than seven minutes late.
“Dear, if you are better now, you must have been a horror before,” Larry laughs.
Regardless of time concepts, this marriage is working. They enjoy supporting each other in their respective activities.
Larry and Shawn talk about their evening event, which starts at 7:30.
“I get off at 7, so can I swing by the house to get you and you’ll be ready?”
“You can slow down and I’ll hop in,” Shawn assures him.
Larry isn’t so sure. He’s more accustomed to the following.
“I’ll ask Shawn if she is ready, and she’ll say, ‘Coming!’” Larry relates. “But ‘coming’ doesn’t mean now, it means that sometime in the future she will come.”
But if time management is the only snag in fitting in with a wife and her family who are a different religion and background, he counts himself fortunate.
“I must tell you honestly, time is the only problem,” he says. “The Engemanns are a lot fun. I try to be a good son-in-law.”
Yes Larry fits in with this church-going, Cougar-rooting, music-loving family.
“He is similar in many ways to the men in my family,” Shawn says. “They are all sports nuts. He has a great sense of humor, and the Engemanns love to laugh. He doesn’t take himself seriously, and neither do we — ourselves or him!”
Larry agrees the Engemanns fit him.
“This is the best family — I couldn’t have a better life,” Larry says. “With one added thing — being on time!”
SHAWN’S DAYS IN THE SUN
Shawn has spent time developing her own fame, although being “Mrs. Larry King” has brought more notoriety than she was used to.
Shawn hosted her own show on the USA network for seven years called “Hollywood Insider,” in which she interviewed all the major celebrities.
Currently she is doing the singing voice for a character Jamie Lee Curtis is playing in a new claymation version of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” which also stars Richard Dreyfus.
Shawn’s magic continues as she will be singing the national anthem at the Oakland Raider’s opener on Sept. 16th.
“The Engemann clan will be there en masse to hear her sing,” Larry pipes in.
But mostly, Shawn is busy with the kids, which is what she prefers. When her son Danny returns from his mission, she wants to be free to go to his BYU football games.
“The boys are my priorities,” she says.
Shawn’s greatest accomplishments are her boys and her marriage, she says. Larry is also proud of his family.
“When people ask me about great accomplishments, I always say fatherhood,” Larry says. “It is something just to go through it.”
While family is No. 1 on the list, another top priority for the Kings is the Larry King Cardiac Foundation. They are also work with Operation Kids, the American Heart Association and the Save the Children Foundation.
Between charity work, family and broadcasting, the Kings have a full calendar.
“Sometimes we are scheduled minute-to-minute, but it’s OK,” Shawn says. “We have a full life. But sometimes when it gets crazy I want to go into my closet and suck my thumb!”
The Kings feel a responsibility to help.
“We’re fortunate to be in a position where we can help, and we feel a responsibility to do whatever we can,” Shawn says. “However, finding a balance is difficult. If all we do is charity work, the family suffers.”
Balance has been harder to find since becoming part of Larry’s world.
“The circles that Larry is in make my world so different,” Shawn says. “Things are bigger, faster and more intense. It’s like turning the volume up on your life.”
Shawn acknowledges the incredible blessing of not having to be concerned with providing for the basics.
“However, with that comes responsibility for making sure your life is what it should be about and has the right balance,” Shawn says.
STAYING CLOSE TO THE FAM
The right balance always leans toward family. Shawn is famous, beautiful and charming, but she is also “big sister” to her physically big brothers Ryan and Bret, who both played college football.
“Bret is a big ‘fraidy cat!” Shawn reveals. “I took him camping one summer, and he was afraid to sleep under the stars. Now he’s out there yelling plays and not afraid of anyone else. It’s so fun to see him grow.”
We’ve all seen the Engemanns and the Kings grow. But life in the spotlight can be blindingly difficult.
“Sometimes people think they can say things because we are more visual, but things still hurt,” Shawn says. “But it all evens out in the end. There’s this wonderful thing called ‘karma.’”
Karma seems to be working in the Kings’ favor, as they’ve found happiness around the world and in their little corner of Provo. After all, Utah Valley is fit for the Kings.