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Richard Dawson, the charming actor and Emmy-winning host of Family Feud, one of television’s most popular game shows, died Saturday night from complications related to esophageal cancer at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, his son Gary said. He was 79.
Dawson played the Cockney Brit Peter Newkirk on the classic CBS sitcom Hogan’s Heroes from 1965 to 1971 (of the series, set in a German POW camp, he once quipped, “We ran six years, a year longer than Hitler) and parodied his game-show persona as the snarky bad guy in Stephen King‘s 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger action film The Running Man. He also was a regular on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In in the early 1970s.
It was Dawson’s popularity as the star in the left seat on the front row on another classic game show, Match Game, that prompted producer Monty Hall to hire the British native as host of a revived Masquerade Party in 1974. After a brief run there, Dawson continued on Match Game until 1976, when he began his stint as the charismatic, kissing host of the Mark Goodson & Bill Todman-created Feud, which began on ABC in 1976. His trademark line, “The survey says,” spoken before panels on a scoreboard flipped to reveal the correct answers (or didn’t flip for wrong answers), became a popular catchphrase.
In a December 2010 interview for the Archive of American Television, Dawson talked about kissing all those contestants on the show.
“It’s very important to me that on Family Feud I could kiss all people,” he said. “It sounds crazy, but when I first came here, Petula Clark was on a show with Nat King Cole and he kissed her on the cheek and 81 stations in the South canceled him. I kissed black women daily and nightly on Family Feud for 11 years and the world didn’t come to an end, did it?”
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