Richard Dawson, best known as the first host of the long-running game show Family Feud in the 1970’s and 1980’s, died from a battle with esophageal cancer on Saturday. He was 79. Dawson was diagnosed with the disease just three weeks ago.
The Gosport, England native broke into the business as a standup comic. playing such venues such as the Stork Room in London’s West End. Landing stateside, Dawson landed small guest roles in The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Steve Allen Show, but scoring big in landing the role of Corporal Peter Newkirk in the popular but critically blasted sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, which ran from 1965-71.
Dawson later became a celebrity panelist on several game shows, including the revival of CBS’ Match Game, which rocketed up to the top of the daytime ratings charts in the mid-1970’s. Due to this successful gig, Dawson became host of Family Feud in 1976. (which like Match Game, was a Todman-Goodson production), where he was known for delivering zingers and one-liners, and of course, kissing female contestants.
Feud was a major hit for ABC, and it became available in first-run syndication as a twice-a-week show in 1977, expanding to a first-run strip two years later. Feud was syndication’s number one show until 1984, when Wheel of Fortune knocked it off its perch. At the same time, ratings also declined for the ABC daytime version, which ended on June 14, 1985. The syndicated version wrapped its run on September 13, 1985.
Dawson returned to the second revival of Feud in 1994, replacing Ray Combs after a six-year run. But due to pre-emptions from the O.J. Simpson trial, his return was not deemed a success. It ended on September 8, 1995 (the current version of Feud is now hosted by Steve Harvey.)
Other credits include movies King Rat and the 1987 theatrical Arnold Schwarznegger movie The Running Man, where he was cast as a villainous game show host. Dawson also had a memorable guest shot on The Odd Couple, where he played himself and he and Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) co-hosted a talk show.
Dawson is survived by his second wife Gretchen Johnson (who was a contestant on Feud in 1981) and three children.
(Updated on 2012-06-04 at 15:52.)