Richard Dawson (born Colin Lionel Emm; November 20, 1932 – June 2, 2012) was a British-American actor, comedian, game show host and panelist in the United States. Dawson was well known for playing Corporal Peter Newkirk in Hogan's Heroes, as a regular panelist on Match Game (1973–1978) and as the original host of Family Feud (1976–1985 and 1994–1995).
Colin Lionel Emm was born in Gosport, Hampshire, England, on November 20, 1932 to Arthur Emm (born 1897) and Josephine Lucy (née Lindsay) Emm (born 1903). His father drove a moving van and his mother worked in a munitions factory. He and his brother, John Leslie Emm, who was five years older, were evacuated as children during World War II to escape the bombing of England's major port cities in the south. In a radio interview with Hogan's Heroes co-star Bob Crane, Dawson recounted how this experience severely limited his school attendance, stating that he attended school regularly for only two years.
At age 14, he ran away from home to join the British Merchant Navy where he pursued a career in boxing, earning almost $5,000 in shipboard matches. During 1950 and 1951, he made several passages on the RMS Mauretania from Southampton to ports of call including Nassau, The Bahamas; Havana; and New York. Following his discharge from the merchant service, Emm began pursuing a comedy career utilizing the stage name Dickie Dawson; when he reached adulthood, he revised his alias to Richard Dawson, the name which he later legally adopted.
Comedy and variety artist in the UK
Dawson began his career in England as a comedian known as Dickie Dawson. Possibly his first television appearance occurred on June 21, 1954, when he was 21 and was featured on the Benny Hill Showcase, an early BBC Television program focused on "introducing artists and acts new to television." He also had at least four BBC Radio program appearances during 1954, including two bookings on the Midday Music Hall on BBC Home Service and two spots on How Do You Do, a BBC Light Entertainment broadcast billed as "a friendly get-together of Commonwealth artists." In 1958, he appeared alongside his future wife, Diana Dors, on BBC TV's A to Z: D, a program featuring entertainers with names beginning with the letter D. In 1959, he made four appearances on BBC TV's Juke Box Jury, three of them along Dors, to whom he was by then married.
Actor and comedian in the US (Hogan's Heroes, Laugh-In, Match Game)
On January 8, 1963, Dawson appeared on The Jack Benny Program, season 13, episode 15 as an audience member seated next to Jack, barely recognizable in glasses and false moustache. In the same year Dawson made a guest appearance in The Dick Van Dyke Show (season 2, episode 27) playing "Racy" Tracy Rattigan, a lecherous flirt who was the summer replacement host for the Alan Brady Show.
In 1965, Dawson had a small role at the end of the film King Rat, starring George Segal, playing 1st Recon paratrooper Captain Weaver, sent to liberate allied POWs in a Japanese prison. Dawson had by then moved to Los Angeles.
He gained fame in the television show Hogan's Heroes as Cpl. Peter Newkirk from 1965 to 1971.
He had a minor role in Universal's Munster, Go Home!
A year later, Dawson released a psychedelic 45 rpm single including the songs "His Children's Parade" and "Apples & Oranges" on Carnation Records.
In 1968, Dawson was in the film The Devil's Brigade as Private Hugh McDonald.
Following the cancellation of Hogan's Heroes, Dawson was a regular joke-telling panelist on the short-lived syndicated revival of the game show Can You Top This? in 1970 and joined the cast of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In that same year.
After Laugh-In was cancelled in 1973, game show pioneer Mark Goodson signed Dawson to appear as a regular on Match Game '73, alongside Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly and host Gene Rayburn. Dawson, who had already served a year as panelist for Goodson's revival of I've Got a Secret, proved to be a solid and funny player, and was the frequent choice of contestants to participate in the Head-To-Head Match portion of the show's "Super-Match" bonus round, in which the contestant and a panelist of the contestant's choice had to obtain an exact match to the requested fill-in-the-blank. During Dawson's time on Match Game, he most often occupied the bottom center seat of the panel (he played one week of shows in the top center seat early on in the show's run).
Family Feud host and TV stardom
Due to this popularity on Match Game, Dawson expressed to Goodson his desire to host a show of his own. In 1975, during Dawson's tenure as one of Match Game's regular panelists, Goodson began development on a spin-off game show, Family Feud. Dawson's agent practically demanded that Dawson be considered as host, even threatening that he would instruct Dawson not to display his characteristic wit on Match Game if he was overlooked. Goodson capitulated, and once seeing Dawson's talents as a host, hired Dawson to host Feud, which debuted on July 12, 1976 on ABC's daytime schedule. Family Feud was a break-out hit, eventually surpassing the ratings of Match Game in late 1977. In 1978, Dawson left Match Game due to a combination of the recent introduction of the "Star Wheel," which affected his being selected for the "Head-To-Head Match" portion of the show's "Super Match" bonus round, and of burnout from appearing on both Match Game and Family Feud regularly; and he won a Daytime Emmy Award for Best Game Show Host for his work on Family Feud.
One of Dawson's trademarks on Family Feud, kissing the female contestants, earned him the nickname "The Kissing Bandit." Television executives repeatedly tried to get him to stop the kissing. After receiving criticism for the practice, he asked viewers to write in and vote on the matter. The mail response resulted in about 200,000 responses, the wide majority of whom were in favor of the kissing. On the 1985 finale, Dawson explained that he kissed contestants for love and luck, something his mother did with Dawson himself as a child.
Dawson was a frequent guest host for Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, hosting 14 times during 1979 and 1980. Before it was known how much longer Carson's tenure would last (Carson would host the show until 1992), Dawson was a contender for the role of Tonight Show host in the event that Carson left the show, a move that he was seriously considering during 1979–80. Of the few Tonight Show episodes during Carson's time as host that did not air on the night that they were intended, Dawson was a guest host on two of them. During one of these, actress Della Reese suffered a near-fatal aneurysm mid-interview during one taping, and the remainder of the episode was cancelled (Reese later recovered). Another episode featured an untimely monologue regarding the danger of flying on airplanes, so it was replaced with a rerun due to the fact that it would have aired the same night as the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in Chicago, which killed all 273 people aboard. (The episode aired several weeks later.)
Dawson parodied his TV persona in 1987's The Running Man opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, portraying the evil, egotistical game-show host Damon Killian. He received rave reviews for his performance. Film critic Roger Ebert (who gave the film a thumbs down) wrote, "Playing a character who always seems three-quarters drunk, he chain-smokes his way through backstage planning sessions and then pops up in front of the cameras as a cauldron of false jollity. Working the audience, milking the laughs and the tears, he is not really much different than most genuine game show hosts—and that's the film's private joke."
Dawson hosted an unsold pilot for a revival of the classic game show You Bet Your Life that was to air on NBC in 1988, but the network declined to pick up the show. In 1990, he auditioned to host the syndicated game show Trump Card, but that role went to Jimmy Cefalo.
On September 12, 1994, Dawson returned to the syndicated edition of Family Feud, replacing and succeeding Ray Combs—who had been fired because the show's ratings were spiraling downward. Dawson finished out what became the final season of the show's official second run (1988–95). Ratings for the show were not in good standing, and Family Feud was out of production for the next four years. During the revival, he did not kiss the female contestants because of a promise he had made to his young daughter to kiss only her mother. The final episode aired on May 26, 1995, and then Dawson officially retired. In 1999, he was asked to make a special appearance on the first episode of the current version of Family Feud, but decided to turn down the offer and have no further involvement with the show.
In 2000, Dawson narrated TV's Funniest Game Shows on the Fox network.
Personal life and family
With his first wife, actress Diana Dors, Dawson had two sons, Mark (born in London, February 4, 1960) and Gary (born in Los Angeles, June 27, 1962) The marriage ended with a divorce granted in Los Angeles in April 1967, and Dawson gained custody of both sons. He had four grandchildren.
Upon retiring, Dawson remained in Beverly Hills, California, where he had lived since 1964. He met his second wife, Gretchen Johnson (born September 22, 1955), when she was a contestant on Family Feud in May 1981; they married in 1991. A daughter, Shannon Nicole Dawson, was born in 1990. Dawson announced the birth and showed a picture of his daughter during the inaugural episode of his second stint as host of Feud in 1994 as he was greeting a contestant who had been a contestant on Match Game when he was a panelist. The episode was featured on the 25th anniversary of Family Feud as no. 2 on the Game Show Network's top 25 Feud Moments.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Dawson participated in various liberal movements, including the Selma to Montgomery marches and participation in a campaign for George McGovern before the 1972 presidential election.
Death and tribute
Dawson died aged 79 from complications of esophageal cancer in Los Angeles, California on June 2, 2012 at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He is buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park, Los Angeles.
Dawson used to smoke almost four packs of cigarettes per day, and he could even be seen smoking on some episodes of Match Game, Family Feud and multiple episodes of Hogan's Heroes. His daughter Shannon got him to stop smoking by 1994, when he was aged 61.
On June 7, 2012, GSN aired a four-hour marathon of Dawson's greatest moments on Match Game and Family Feud, including the first episode of Dawson's 1994 season.
Year Title Role Notes
1962 The Longest Day British Soldier Uncredited
1963 Promises! Promises! Uncredited
1965 King Rat Weaver
1966 Out of Sight Agent Uncredited
1966 Munster, Go Home! Joey
1968 The Devil's Brigade Pvt. Hugh MacDonald
1973 Treasure Island Long John Silver Voice
1978 How to Pick Up Girls! Chandler Corey
1987 The Running Man Damon Killian (final film role)
Year Title Episode Role
1963 The Jack Benny Program "Jack Meets Max Bygraves" Man in audience
1963 The Dick Van Dyke Show "Racy Tracy Rattigan" Tracy Rattigan (credit: Dick Dawson)
1964 The Outer Limits "The Invisibles" Oliver Fair (credit: Dick Dawson)
1964 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour "Anyone for Murder?" Robert Johnson (credit: Dick Dawson)
1965-1971 Hogan's Heroes 168 episodes Corporal Peter Newkirk
1967 Mr. Terrific "The Formula Is Stolen" Max
1970 McCloud "The Stage Is All the Word" Ted Callender
1970-1973 Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In 58 episodes (15 uncredited) Regular performer
1971 Love, American Style "Love and the Groupie" Rick Jagmund
1971 Love, American Style "Love and the Hiccups" Danny
1972 Love, American Style "Love and the Private Eye" Melvin Danger
1972 Wait Till Your Father Gets Home "The Hippie" Claude (voice)
1973-1974 The New Dick Van Dyke Show Seven episodes Richard Richardson
1975 The Odd Couple "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" Himself
1975 McMillan and Wife "Aftershock" Roger Stambler
1978 Fantasy Island "Call Me Lucky/Torch Singer" Harry Beamus
1978 The Love Boat "The Song Is Ended" Bert Buchanan
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