Richard Dawson, actor, game show host and professional charmer, died Saturday at age 79. Dawson first came to fame on American televisions as good-humored British POW Cpl. Newkirk on Hogan’s Heroes, but he was best-known as a sly, saucy daytime TV conversationalist on Match Game and, most famously, Family Feud.
On Match Game, that lounge-y ’70s icon of hangout humor and double-entendres, Dawson endeared himself to audiences with his dry humor, a suave guest at a mildly racy cocktail party. With Family Feud he became the host, upbeat and rakishly chatty. He was, famously, the host who loved the ladies, always quick with a hand on the shoulder and a smooch on the lips. His amorous manner was much-joked-about, but it was less lecherous than a way of welcoming his guests and keeping things light.
Family Feud, after all, was the kind of show that was more about the comedy than the big-money stakes, and at least half the fun was how the quick-witted Dawson played off his guests and deflected their flubs. The Feud was a show about people, really; even the questions were not about trivia or absolute truth but rather, what a contestant thought most other people would answer a given question, right or wrong. (In his media study Within the Context of No Context, critic George W.S. Trow writes a fantastic riff on the meta nature of Family Feud, which would ask questions like what most Americans would guess the height of an average woman to be: “Guess what they guessed. Guess what they guessed the average is.”)
And Richard Dawson, day in and day out on TV was a people person. He joked with the men, flirted with the ladies, reveled with the winners and commiserated with the losers—or, better, found a way to laugh with them. In the fantastic clip above, Dawson breaks down uncontrollably when a woman is asked in which month the survey said a woman first looks pregnant, and she answers, “September.” His giggles go on and on, until, going with it, he makes his breakdown into a bit itself.
Dawson left Feud in 1985 when the first version was cancelled; in 1987, he would play a wicked game show host opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man. But survey says he’ll be remembered above all for being the game-show host who loved us. RIP.