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 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’s swaggering, randy manner (and working-bloke’s 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, a 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.
But long before Feud, Dawson had gained fame as the fast-talking Cpl. Peter Newkirk on Hogan’s Heroes, the CBS comedy starring Bob Crane set in World War II. The show made the ratings top 10 in its first season, 1965-66, and aired until 1971.
We ran six years, Dawson once quipped, a year longer than Hitler.
Dawson landed roles in U.S. comedy and variety shows in the early 1960s, including The Steve Allen Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. Meanwhile, he became a frequent celebrity contestant on game shows, including both daytime and prime-time versions of The Match Game.