Born in England in 1932, comedian Richard Dawson was introduced to American audiences as Corporal Newkirk on the World War II sitcom Hogan's Heroes. He later hosted one of television's most popular game shows, Family Feud. Known as much for his wisecracking sense of humor as his penchant for kissing the female contestants, Dawson carried the show until its cancelation in 1985, helping it win an Emmy Award in 1977. Dawson died of complications from esophageal cancer in Los Angeles in 2012.
Early Life and Career
Actor and popular game show host Richard Dawson was born Colin Lionel Emm on November 20, 1932, in Gosport, Hampshire, England. At the age of 14, he ran away from home and joined the Merchant Marines. He spent three years in the service.
After his discharge, the show business hopeful started performing stand-up comedy under his soon-to-be more familiar stage name. In the early 1960s, Dawson began his acting career. He made guest appearances on several television programs, working with the likes of Dick Van Dyke and Steve Allen. On the big screen, Dawson had a small but memorable role in the 1965 war drama King Rat, which starred George Segal.
Beginning in 1965, Dawson won over American audiences as Corporal Peter Newkirk in the World War II sitcom Hogan's Heroes. The popular comedy, which also starred Bob Crane, ran for six years. By the early 1970s, he had also become a regular on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Dawson also was a frequent guest panelist on such game shows as Match Game, where he delighted audiences with his quick wit and warm charm.
Dawson got the opportunity to have his own game show when he became the host of Family Feud in 1976. The show pitted two families against each other, with each side trying to score the most points by guessing the top answers to survey questions. Known for his wisecracking sense of humor and his penchant for kissing the female contestants, Dawson hosted the show until its cancelation in 1985.
Despite rumors that he grew egotistical and difficult to work with, Dawson remained popular with TV audiences. He helped the show win an Emmy Award in 1977. He even showed he had a sense of humor about himself with his appearance in the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger action film Running Man, portraying a twisted game show host.
In 1994, Dawson reappeared as host in a short-lived revival of Family Feud. Afterward, he chose a life out of the spotlight. He lived with his second wife, Gretchen, a former Family Feud contestant, and their daughter, Shannon, in California.
On June 2, 2012, Dawson died from esophageal cancer at the Ronald Regan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. In addition to his second wife and daughter, he was survived by two sons from a previous marriage to British sex symbol Diana Dors.
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