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'Family Feud' host Dawson dies at 79 - The Eagle: Archives

'Family Feud' host Dawson dies at 79

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Posted: Monday, June 4, 2012 12:00 am

NEW YORK - Richard Dawson brought a saucy, unabashedly touchy-feely style to TV game shows as host of Family Feud.

The British-born entertainer, who died Saturday at age 79 from complications related to esophageal cancer at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, earlier had made his mark in the unlikely 1960s sitcom hit Hogan's Heroes, which mined laughs from a Nazi POW camp whose prisoners hoodwink their captors and run the place themselves.

But it is as the kissing, wisecracking quizmaster of Feud that he will be remembered.

The show, which initially ran from 1976 to 1985, pitted a pair of families against each other as they tried to guess the most popular answers to poll questions such as "What do people give up when they go on a diet?"

Dawson made his hearty, soaring pronouncement of the phrase "Survey says..." a national catchphrase among the show's fans.

He won a daytime Emmy Award in 1978 as best game show host. Tom Shales of The Washington Post called him "the fastest, brightest and most beguilingly caustic interlocutor since the late great Groucho bantered and parried on You Bet Your Life." The show was so popular it was released as both daytime and syndicated evening versions.

Dawson played the show, and his duties presiding over it, for laughs.

On one episode, he posed this question to a contestant: "During what month of pregnancy does a woman begin to look pregnant?"

She blurted out "September," then, too late, realized this was a ridiculous response.

All the better for Dawson, who couldn't stop laughing - or milking the moment for continued laughs from the audience.

His swaggering, randy manner (and British accent) set him apart from other TV quizmasters, who, more often than not, tempered any boisterous inclinations with defiant smoothness. Not Dawson, who was overtly physical, prone to invading his contestants' personal space - and especially the women, each of whom he kissed without exception.

At the time the show bowed out in 1985, executive producer Howard Felsher estimated that Dawson had kissed "somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000."

"I kissed them for luck and love, that's all," Dawson said at the time.

One of them he kissed was Gretchen Johnson, an attractive young contestant who came on with members of her family in 1981. She and Dawson began dating, and, after a decade together, they wed in 1991. (Dawson is survived by Gretchen and their daughter Shannon, as well as two sons, Mark and Gary, from his first marriage, and four grandchildren.)

Producers revived the show as The New Family Feud, starring comedian Ray Combs, in 1988. Six years later, Dawson replaced Combs at the helm, but that lasted only one season. Steve Harvey is the current host.

Dawson was born Colin Lionel Emm in 1932 in Gosport, England. When he was 14 he joined the Merchant Marines, serving three years.

He first got into show business as a standup comedian, playing clubs in London's West End including the legendary Stork Room.

It was there, in the late 1950s, he met blond bombshell Diana Dors, the film star who became known as Britain's answer to Marilyn Monroe. They married in 1959 and divorced a decade later.

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