Yet another huge loss to the entertainment world over the weekend. Richard Dawson, comedian, actor, game show host — best known for his hosting of the original version of Family Feud — lost his battle with esophogical cancer this past Saturday night, according to his son Gary. He was 79.
While I’ve seen Richard several times on Hogan’s Heroes and the occassional guest spot on sitcoms like Mama’s Family and The Odd Couple, and I really enjoyed his roles on the latter two shows, I’m going to take a little time and focus on what I’m most familiar with in regards to Richard Dawson’s legacy. His long career in game shows.
I grew up with the Ray Combs version of Family Feud and remember his version the most along with all of the other hosts that have succeeded him. However, on Easter weekend 2003, I got GSN in my home for the first time. Family Feud with Richard Dawson was the first show I saw. His open embraces with female contestants, especially on Family Feud, could shock some viewers, but I respected the fact that he would be as open and embracing with any contestant if they wanted, no matter who they were. It also seemed real and genuine. It saddens me a little to hear that he actually got letters back in the day about kissing and making Black or Hispanic contestants feel better about themselves, but it warms my heart that he didn’t pay the naysayers any attention. I also loved how he was not afraid to call out what he thought would be a questionable — or well, bad, answer given by a player.
For example, “I asked you to name a time when people usually get out of bed. And being the Einstein you are, you said…’Morning.'”
“Name the first article of clothing that you take off when you get home from work.
“Contestant: My underwear.”
“Next question, what time do you get off work?”
Match Game was on an hour and a half later that day in 2003, and I really began to enjoy his style there, along with Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, and the host, Gene Rayburn. I became a fan rather quickly. His quick wit and charm with the panel, along with his funny quips (“oh, you hamburger”) is what really helped me stand up and take notice to him. Another favorite thing of his that I loved is that he always spoke out in favor of the contestant when it was necessary. A perfect example being this moment from Match Game ’77.
He was also a regular panelist on the short-lived I’ve Got A Secret revival in 1972 with Steve Allen. A really wonderful addition. The charm and wit were there in full play in figuring out what contestants and some celebrity guests had up their sleeves.
Richard was kind. Emotional. Funny. In his prime, everything you ever wanted in a game show host and panelist. He will be sorely missed.