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Larry King Speaks About His Stroke

It’s been nearly nine months since Larry King suffered a near-fatal stroke, but these days, the legendary TV host is feeling better by the day — and grateful to be alive.

“It’s been a rough year,” King, 86, who had the stroke in May, just weeks after heart surgery to place a stent (King had a heart attack in 1987), tells PEOPLE. “And I don’t have any idea of what 2020 is going to be like. But I can still work and I can watch my kids grow up. I feel positive — and hopeful.”

King, who hosts Ora TV’s Larry King Now, has little memory of the stroke and its immediate aftermath, recalling, “I was driving to the doctor’s office, and I don’t remember anything after that. I woke up in intensive care and I had tubes in me. They told my family I was going to die.”

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Shaken, King panicked. “When I came out of [the stroke] and learned what had happened, I had an instant thought and I said to my son, [Chance, 20], ‘I want to die,’ ” says King. “But that was a passing thing. I never had that thought again, or before. And Chance kept me going. He said, ‘You can’t go, you’re not going to go,’ and so I came home.”

Recovery for King, who split from his wife of 22 yearsShawn Southwick King, three months after the stroke, has been slow but steady.

The award-winning interviewer suffers from drop foot, a side effect from the stroke that caused weakness in his left foot, and uses a wheelchair and walker. (He goes to rehab for his foot 3-4 days a week.) Some moments are harder than others.

“I get mad,” King admits. “When I have to be helped into a chair it’s like, ‘Come on.’ But I try to rely on my sense of humor. I think you live longer if you laugh a lot.”

“I have less of a fear of dying now,” says the father of five (he also has Cannon, 19, with Southwick King and three grown children with two of his ex-wives). “I’m 86 and it is what it is. I just want to keep working until the end. I’d like to die at work — I’ll retire right there!”

But King isn’t showing any signs of slowing down just yet.

“I’m very proud of what I do,” he says. “And I’m a good father — nothing beats parenthood. There’s an element of pinching myself every day. Look at what I’ve come through. All in all if you look at it, I’ve had a blessed life.”