Mr. King, who had lived in Washington since the 1950s, died Dec. 20 at Chevy Chase House, a retirement facility in the District. He was 83. He had emphysema, his wife, Barbara Blaine, said.
He was the author of seven plays and more than a dozen books, including memoirs, a novel and collections of articles and letters. In 1982, he won an Emmy Award as the writer and narrator of a CBS documentary, “The Best Little Statehouse in Texas,” that looked at the legislature’s behind-the-scenes horse-trading.
Mr. King also was known for his outsized personality, full-bore drinking and an ability to tell outrageously droll stories in a profanity-laced drawl that was almost indistinguishable from his writing voice.
“His certain knowledge of his origins informs his point of view and his prose style,” New York Times book critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote in a review of Mr. King’s 1971 memoir, “Confessions of a White Racist.” “And this confidence in his roots is what makes Mr. King’s writing so alive, dramatic, warm, and funny.”
But it was “The Best Little Whorehouse” that propelled Mr. King from journeyman writer to accidental fame as a playwright. He happened on his most famous story after a crusading Houston TV reporter, Marvin Zindler, exposed the Chicken Ranch as a den of prostitution. Over a two-day period, Zindler said, he counted 484 men arriving at the unmarked building outside La Grange, Tex.
By the 1970s, the Chicken Ranch had been an open secret in Texas for more than 50 years. It derived its name from a Depression-era practice in which customers sometimes paid with chickens or other farm products.
In his Playboy article, Mr. King noted that “veteran legislators” were no strangers to the Chicken Ranch and could have found their way from the state capital of Austin “without headlights even in a midnight rainstorm.”
The madam of the Chicken Ranch, Edna Milton Chadwell, who died in February, was a no-nonsense field general who would not allow profanity, violence or drinking on the premises. “Miss Edna” was also one of the leading philanthropists in Fayette County, contributing to the local hospital and sponsoring a baseball team.
Despite protests that the Chicken Ranch did little to harm the morals of Fayette County — “I ain’t never got no complaints,” the sheriff said — legal authorities had little choice but to shut down the bordello in 1973 and send Miss Edna and her “girls” looking for another line of work.