Sunday, June 3, 2012

Survey Says: R.I.P. Richard

Richard Dawson was born in Gosport, Hampshire, England on November 30, 1932. He passed away yesterday, June 2, 2012 at age 79 from esophageal cancer. Dawson was an English actor, comedian, game show panelist and host. He was best known for his role as Corporal Peter Newkirk on Hogan’s Heroes, being the original host of Family Feud, and for being a regular panelist on Match game from 1973 to 1978. His final film role was that of Damon Killian, host of “The Running Man” in the 1987 film of the same name.

Being a TV junkie all of my life, I have many fond memories of Dawson on the small screen. Dating back to 1963, he appeared in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show as the dapper Brit entertainer “Racy Tracy” Rattigan.

His first real famous role in American TV was on Hogan’s Heroes. Although I wasn’t a big fan of the war-related sitcom, it was one of the highest-rated shows on television during its six-year run from 1965 to 1971.

When Hogan’s Heroes was cancelled, Dawson quickly became a regular on the popular Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In show, which ran from 1971 to 1973.  I loved Laugh-In. It was edgy, hilarious and you never knew what celebrity was going to pop up next. Besides, it had Goldie Hawn and Judy Carne in bikinis.

When Laugh-In went off the air in 1973, Dawson didn’t miss a beat and was signed as a regular on Match Game. Along with funnyman Charles Nelson Reilly, the acerbic Brett Somers and host Gene Rayburn, he made Match Game the greatest game show ever. Well, at least in my humble opinion.

Dawson was a huge reason for the show’s popularity. He was witty and a great player, providing the correct answers more than any other panelist. This made him very popular with the contestants when it came time for the “Head-to-Head Match” and “Super-Match” portions of the show.

In 1975, Match Game producer and game show pioneer, Mark Goodson hired Dawson to host Family Feud, which debuted on July 12, 1976. The Feud was a big hit and in late 1977 it surpassed Match Game in the ratings. In 1978, the same year he left Match Game, Dawson won an Emmy for Best Game Show Host for his work on Family Feud.

His legendary trademark of kissing all the female contestants, earned Dawson the nickname “The Kissing Bandit”. While some people didn’t care for the seemingly constant kissing, it didn’t bother me. It was no worse than his persistent schmoozing. It was all part of his charming persona.

Dawson claimed that the reason he kissed the female contestants was for love and luck; it was something his mother did with him as a child. However on April 6,1981 one of those kisses must have been something special.

On that particular day, the Johnson family appeared on Family Feud. That is when Dawson, then age 48, met 27-year old Gretchen Johnson. The rest is, as they say, history. They had a daughter in 1990 and were married in 1991.

I saw a clip from that noteworthy episode. When Gretchen played Fast Money at the end of the show, Dawson had his arm around her the entire time and held her very close. You could sense a spark. They remained married until his death.

There was one rather eerie fact that I uncovered while researching this blog. Dawson’s death came 16 years to the day that his successor on Family Feud, Ray Combs committed suicide. Kind of unsettling.

I have always been a fan of Richard Dawson. This is evidenced in that he has been featured in several of my blogs over the years. Check out Fill In The Blank, Diversity Is Everywhere and Survey Says when you get the chance.

This final survey says: Rest in peace, Richard Dawson, you will be missed.

Until next time…from the booth.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very well written column, Paul. I enjoyed the guy in pretty much everything I saw him in, except for Running Man. Although the movie was hokey in the altogether, Dawson's host was played a little too over the top, and therefore, he did not meet his objective correlative, for which every actor must strive. He was a funny, witty, classy guy.

KP

Paul E. Vagnoni said...

Thanks, John.

Leplume said...

Good blog post, Paul! I remember watching Family Feud with my mom, who loved the show. She used to complain about all that kissing but she loved Richard Dawson. Years later, a rerun of Hogan's Heroes was on TV Land and we watched it together. She had never seen the show and at first didn't like it at all until she realized that was her beloved Brit right there! LOL She was a fan from that point on!

Paul E. Vagnoni said...

Thanks, MB!