joined on sharing terms a travelling company at Tunbridge, where for the sum of fourpence he recited a prologue and an epilogue and acted the two characters of Hamlet and Sharp in the ‘Lying Lover’ of Garrick. After a short experience of acting in barns, in the course of which (June 1748) he played in a booth at Windsor, directed by Yates, he was seen by Garrick, who, on the recommendation of Yates, engaged him for Drury Lane. His first part was the Herald in ‘King Lear,’ presumably on 8 Oct. 1748. On 19 Oct., when Massinger's ‘New Way to Pay Old Debts’ was given for the first time at Drury Lane, he played Allworth, the occasion being disingenuously announced in the bills as his first appearance in any character. Salanio in the ‘Merchant of Venice,’ Cinthio in the ‘Emperor of the Moon,’ Truman in the ‘Squire of Alsatia,’ Tattoo in ‘Lethe,’ Clerimont in the ‘Miser,’ and Don Philip in ‘She would and she would not,’ followed during the season, in which also he was the original Murza in Dr. Johnson's ‘Irene,’ and played a part in the ‘Hen-Peck'd Captain,’ a farce said to be founded on the ‘Campaigners’ of D'Urfey. During the summer he played, with Mrs. Pritchard, Romeo, Benedick, Ranger, and George Barnwell, with much success, at Jacob's Well Theatre, Bristol. There he was seen by Whitehead, who formed a high estimate of him. On his return to Drury Lane he found himself announced for George Barnwell. During his second season he played, among other parts, the Younger Brother in ‘Comus,’ Rosse in ‘Macbeth,’ Claudio in ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ and Ferdinand in the ‘Tempest,’ and was the original Duke of Athens in ‘Edward the Black Prince,’ by William Shirley, and Valeria in the ‘Roman Father’ of Whitehead. He also played in the ‘Little French Lawyer’ and the ‘Spanish Curate,’ converted after Garrick's fashion into farces. At the close of the season he went with a Miss Cole, a pleasing actress, to Dublin. His first appearance under Sheridan at the Smock Alley Theatre took place in September 1750 as Ranger in the ‘Suspicious Husband.’ Except for one season, beginning in September 1755, when he was the manager and principal actor at the Bath Theatre—a fact unrecorded by Genest—King remained at Smock Alley Theatre for eight years, and while there rose to the highest rank in comedy. Tom in the ‘Conscious Lovers,’ Jeremy in ‘Love for Love,’ Mercutio, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Autolicus in ‘Florizel and Perdita,’ the Miser, Abel Drugger, Duretête, Marplot in the ‘Busy Body,’ Scrub, Lord Lace, Tattle, Osric, Trinculo, Iago, Bayes, and Harlequin in the ‘Emperor of the Moon,’ were among his parts. On 23 Oct. 1758 he appeared at the Crow Street Theatre as Trappanti in ‘She would and she would not.’
The difficulties and dissensions of the Dublin theatres at length drove him back to Drury Lane, where, as Tom in the ‘Conscious Lovers,’ he appeared on 2 Oct. 1759. He had greatly improved in style, and was assigned leading parts. With occasional visits to Dublin or to country towns, and with one season at Covent Garden and a summer visit to the Haymarket, he remained at Drury Lane, of which he became the mainstay, until 1802. On his reappearance at Drury Lane he was accompanied by Miss Baker, a hornpipe dancer, who then made her first appearance at Drury Lane. He married her in 1766, and she retired from the stage 9 May 1772. Genest gives a list of King's characters, which is confessedly incomplete. Nevertheless it extends to nearly one hundred and fifty parts, and embraces the whole range of comedy, from Falstaff, Sir Peter Teazle, Sir Anthony Absolute, and Puff, to Ben in ‘Love for Love’ and Scrub, from Benedick and Sir Harry Wildair to Parolles, Bobadil, and Cloten. At Drury Lane King was, on 31 Oct. 1759, the original Sir Harry's servant in ‘High Life below Stairs,’ and on 12 Dec. the original Squire Groom in Macklin's ‘Love à la Mode.’ He took part during the same season in the first production of Murphy's ‘Way to Keep him,’ and ‘Every Woman in her Humour,’ attributed to Mrs. Clive. Scribble in Colman's ‘Polly Honeycombe,’ Florimond in Hawkesworth's ‘Edgar and Emmeline,’ Sir Harry Beagle in Colman's ‘Jealous Wife,’ and Captain Le Brush in Reed's ‘Register Office’ were also among his original parts in the following season. But not until his performance of Lord Ogleby in the ‘Clandestine Marriage’ of Garrick and Colman, on 20 Feb. 1766, was the highest rank allotted to him. Garrick studied the part and resigned it to King, who accepted it with reluctance. Garrick was pleased with his conception, and his performance was declared to be in the same pre-eminent class with Garrick's Hamlet and Kemble's Coriolanus. In July 1766 King broke his leg, and was unable to act until the following November. His reputation attained its climax on 8 May 1777, when he was the original Sir Peter Teazle in the famous first representation of the ‘School for Scandal.’ Of that representation it was said a generation later that ‘no new performer has ever appeared in any of the principal characters that was not inferior to the person who acted it originally’ (Genest, v. 555).