After disappearing from the public eye for a long time, beloved television personality Dawson remained a host with a long-standing career in comedy. He had impressive stints as a host on shows such as “Match Game” (1973-79 CBS) and “Hogan’s Heroes” (1965-1974 CBS). He was also a favorite audience member as one of the panelists on another game show from that era. Dawson had already become a household name for his recurring role as Corporal Peter Newkirk on the classic comedy series. He gained fame worldwide as the host of the long-running television game show “Family Feud” (1976-1985, ABC, syndicated 1994- ). Known by nicknames such as “Kissyface,” “Dickie,” “Bandit,” and “Kissing Bandit,” Dawson was a British comedian and actor. His warm personality, quick wit, and laced jokes with double entendres made “Family Feud” one of the most popular game shows in history. The show created many memorable moments as frenetically contestants tried to outguess each other. In the show, two families were pitted against each other in a quest to name the most popular answers to survey questions. With each mention of “Survey says,” Dawson gained worldwide fame as the charming and wisecracking host of “Family Feud.”
Emm Lionel Colin was born on November 20, 1932, in Gosport, Hampshire, England, to a British mother and an American father. Later in his career, he legally changed his name to Richard Dawson. While living in New York in the late 1950s, he married Diana Dors, a British sex symbol known as “the English Marilyn Monroe,” due to her blonde signature hair and curvaceous figure. He began his acting career using the stage name “Dickie” when he performed his comedy routine throughout London, including at the Palladium Theater. After his future as a game show host, he legally changed his name to Richard Dawson. He appeared in an episode of the hit comedy show “The Dick Van Dyke Show” as Tracy Rattigan, a British entertainer. He then started making rounds on numerous variety shows, mostly doing celebrity impressions. In 1961, he brought his comic act across the pond to the United States. Before divorcing in 1967 and separating in 1964, he and his wife had two sons. To avoid beatings during his time in the Merchant Marines, he lied about his age and ran away from home at the age of 14. During that time, he also made money by boxing.
During the revival of the game show “I’ve Got a Secret” in 1972-73, he continued to compete on game shows as a panelist, originally aired on CBS from 1952 to 1967. Dawson remained on the collective radar of viewers by appearing as a regular on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” during the 1973-74 season. Following the cancellation of “Hogan’s Heroes,” one of the highest-rated shows on CBS, Dawson needed a boost to gain attention in Hollywood. Reportedly, Dawson eventually auditioned for the lead role, which went to Bob Crane, because he was not deemed “American enough.” Dawson first scored his big break when he joined the cast of the controversial WWII-set sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes” as Corporal Peter Newkirk, the group’s occasional tailor, bookie, pickpocket, magician, and con man. His comedic timing and knack for impersonations served him well as he conducted an espionage/sabotage campaign under the noses of his Nazi captors, playing a prisoner of war in the camp.
Later, the show, which aired on ABC, NBC, and CBS, was canceled a year after its debut due to low ratings. It featured another celebrity disguised in heavy makeup and/or costume who would ask simple questions to a panel of other celebrities. The objective of the game show was for the panel to guess the identity of this disguised celebrity. In 1974, Dawson hosted a one-season syndicated revival of “Masquerade Party.” During this revival, a contestant’s answer of “finishing school” did not match the judges’ expected answer of simply “school,” causing some controversy known as the “School Riot.” In another episode of “Match Game ’77,” Dawson and fellow panelist Debralee Scott caused a commotion. Dawson quickly became a favorite among the contestants for the “Head-To-Head Match” portion of the bonus round due to his previous experience as a panelist. The show, “Match Game ’73,” where contestants tried to match celebrities’ answers to fill-in-the-blank questions, took notice of Dawson’s undeniable charm and comedic skills. As a result, one of the producers of “I’ve Got a Secret,” Mark Goodson, signed him up to be a regular on “Match Game ’73.”
In 1978, when he received the Emmy Award for Best Game Show Host, Dawson’s impressive hosting abilities were rewarded by critics. Regardless, the show was supposed to be funny when he played host, but it turned out that Dawson’s slick on-screen personality was actually very acerbic. When reports surfaced that he was fired from “Game Match” in 1978, the rolling cameras stopped and the truth came out. However, when he showed off his new passport, fans and TV audience shared a proud moment with the newly naturalized U.S. Citizen. In a memorable episode in 1984, Dawson even slightly insulted or teased contestants, making them feel at ease with his unique ability to charm and exude genuine warmth. He always dressed impeccably and chatted with his audience in the studio, making the show open and inviting. The pairing of Dawson as the host for the new game show “Feud Family” was an instant success, and the 1976 year could not have been more perfect for the experienced personality of the game show.
He was 79. Dawson passed away on June 2, 2012 from complications due to esophageal cancer. Dawson was one of the most adored and recognizable personalities ever to work in the medium, confident in his position. He chose to retire instead, but he was asked to host subsequent versions of the show. He did not kiss any more female contestants on the show to fulfill a promise he made to his wife and daughter. Dawson reportedly refrained from kissing any more female contestants on the show to honor a commitment he made to his wife and daughter. Dawson reportedly became emotional upon receiving a 25-second standing ovation as he walked on stage during his first appearance since he had departed from the show in 1985. He went on to host the “Family Feud” syndicated version from 1994 to 1995, replacing Ray Combs. He portrayed an arrogant, sinister game show host named Damon Killian in the film, which was loosely based on a science fiction novel by Stephen King and starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 1987, he appeared in the successful action feature, “The Running Man.” Audiences had not seen the last of him, but he concluded his nine-year tenure on “Family Feud” in 1985. In 1981, Dawson met 27-year-old contestant Gretchen Johnson and married her 10 years later. His kissing, almost leering behavior were well-received by TV audiences for the most part, with one particular woman receiving more than the majority. One of his signature moves was kissing all the single female contestants, earning him the nicknames “Kissyface” and “The Kissing Bandit.” Dawson was also famously known to be quite the charmer on the show.