Richard Dawson, the sarcastic British comedian best remembered for his stint as the host of TV’s Family Feud, being a regular on the WWII sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, and playing a dark, sadistic game show host in the sci-fi vehicle The Running Man, died yesterday at the age of 79 from complications stemming from esophageal cancer.
Dawson found his first success as the slick character Newkirk on Hogan’s Heroes, the long running CBS-TV sitcom which starred Bob Crane and ran from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. Afterwards, he found greater success as a regular panelist on the long-running 1970s game show Match Game, also airing on CBS. His irascible style, jack of all trades Groucho Marx-esque wit and lovable charm made him a fan and contestant favorite. He used those traits when he became the host of the original version of Family Feud, a stint that lasted from 1976 to 1985 and was a show that won him a Daytime Emmy Award for his work in 1978. He’s best remembered for especially two things from that program: notoriously kissing every female contestant he encountered on the show (something which he once said he did “for love and luck”) and his bombastic, over the top catchphrase of Survey Said!, which became part of the American pop culture lexicon soon after he did it. On Feud, he parlayed a very decidedly English style and swagger, and the program was watched and beloved by millions of stalwart viewers of daytime television.
Dawson also dabbled in the acting ring. He played another game show host, but this time one of the rude, caustic, and extremely sleazy and slimy type in the 1987 theatrical release The Running Man, with Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the film, which was a loose adaptation of a Stephen King novel, Dawson’s character hosts a game show in a dark totalitarian not too distant future, a show in which convicts try to escape as they are stalked by executioners. Critical reaction to the film and Dawson’s portrayal was fairly positive and the film was a minor hit.
Afterwards, he made a comeback on a 1994 remake of Family Feud, but only lasted one season. He stayed out of the public eye mostly after that, mainly retired from acting. He is survived by his widow, Gretchen (who he met on Family Feud when she was a contestant on the program in 1981) and their daughter Shannon, two sons from his first marriage, Mark and Gary, and four grandchildren. His work will live on however, as Game Show Network airs reruns of Family Feud and Match Game to this very day, so the light of his warm wit, fun style, and very British manner will never be dimmed.
RIP Richard Dawson
November 20, 1932 – June 2, 2012