Ray Combs

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Ray Combs
RayCombs.jpg
Combs in a publicity photo for Family Feud in 1988
Birth nameRaymond Neil Combs Jr.
Born(1956-04-03)April 3, 1956
Hamilton, Ohio, U.S.
DiedJune 2, 1996(1996-06-02) (aged 40)
Glendale Adventist Medical Center, Glendale, California, U.S.
MediumStand-up, film, television
EducationGarfield High School
Years active1979–1996
GenresImprovisational comedy, observational comedy
Spouse
Debbie Combs
(m. 1977; sep. 1995)
Children6

Raymond Neil Combs Jr. (April 3, 1956 – June 2, 1996) was an American stand-up comedian, actor, and game-show host. Combs began his professional career in the late 1970s. His popularity on the stand-up circuit led to him being signed as the second host of the game show Family Feud in its second run and first revival. The show aired on CBS from 1988–1993 and was in syndication from 1988–1994. From 1995 to 1996, Combs hosted another game show, Family Challenge.

Career[edit]

Combs began performing comedy at Cincinnati's Red Dog Saloon, where he developed his best-known shtick of audience sing-alongs of sitcom theme songs. In 1979, Combs sent a letter to David Letterman, asking for advice; Letterman encouraged him to continue in comedy. In 1982, convinced that he was better than the comedians whose acts he saw on The Tonight Show, Combs left his job as an Indianapolis furniture salesman, and moved with his family to Los Angeles. He did well in a competition with more than 200 other young comedians, and began doing audience warm-ups for NBC sitcoms such as The Golden Girls, Facts of Life and Amen. He became so popular that other sitcoms changed their production schedules just so they could have him warm up their audiences.[1] Johnny Carson heard the audience's laughter and then invited Combs to perform on The Tonight Show in October 1986; the audience gave him a standing ovation.[2][3]

In 1985, he appeared on an episode of The Facts of Life as a background character. Around this time, he also guest-starred on an episode of The Golden Girls. In 1987, he appeared as a celebrity panelist on the John Davidson version of Hollywood Squares, and had a small role in the comedy film Overboard starring Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn (he was the local cop in the beginning hospital sequence).

Family Feud[edit]

In 1988, game-show producers Mark Goodson and Howard Felsher gave Combs a seven-year contract to host a new version of Family Feud.[2] The program premiered on July 4, 1988 on CBS's daytime lineup, and a syndicated version was launched on September 19. According to Feud announcer Gene Wood, Combs also toured extensively around the United States to promote the show, and made guest appearances on Card Sharks (Eubanks) and The Price Is Right to discuss the new version of Family Feud.

On June 29, 1992, CBS expanded the daytime show from 30 minutes to one hour. A new "Bullseye" round was added and the show was retitled Family Feud Challenge. On September 14, 1992, the Bullseye round was integrated into the syndicated run, which remained 30 minutes in length, but was renamed as The New Family Feud. Combs was one of the most seen hosts on television during the 1992–93 season, with an hour and a half of Family Feud airing five days a week.

While Combs enjoyed hosting Family Feud, he grew increasingly frustrated by the rigid formula of the show. He pressured his agent to find new opportunities for him in acting and comedy, as he grew concerned that he was being typecast as a game show host.[citation needed]

Midway through the 1992–93 season, ratings for the show began to plummet. CBS cancelled the daytime version in early 1993, with the final new episode airing March 26 (reruns aired through September 10), as many CBS affiliates had dropped the show entirely by that time. The syndicated version was also on the verge of cancellation (as many stations had also dropped that or moved it into overnight time slots). Jonathan Goodson, who had become chairman of Mark Goodson Productions after the death of his father, Mark Goodson, in 1992, decided to replace Combs with original host Richard Dawson in the hopes of spiking ratings (Dawson's return season initially drew good ratings, but was unable to sustain this strength long-term, and Family Feud's second incarnation ended after the 1994–95 season). By all accounts Combs was hurt by his dismissal from the show[4] and, as the credits began rolling at the end of his final episode, he immediately walked off the stage, went to his dressing room to get changed, left the CBS Television City facility without saying goodbye to anyone, got into his car, and drove straight home.

Other appearances[edit]

Combs also made an appearance for the World Wrestling Federation as a guest ring announcer at WrestleMania VIII, where he amused the capacity crowd at Indianapolis' Hoosier Dome by lashing into the team of the Nasty Boys, The Mountie, and Repo Man with various scathing insults before being ultimately chased out of the ring. He later served as a guest commentator alongside Vince McMahon and Bobby Heenan at Survivor Series 1993 in a match of the Hart Family against Shawn Michaels and his Knights.

In addition to these two appearances, he appeared in various WWF/WBF celebrity editions of Family Feud. Heenan and Combs also struck up a friendship, which Heenan recounted in his autobiography, noting that he believed Combs felt pigeonholed by being a game-show host.[5]

Combs portrayed himself in episodes of In Living Color and 227 in Family Feud sketches and made an appearance on the TNN television series The Statler Brothers Show, where he did a stand-up comedy routine. In October 1993, a Family Feud video game featuring Combs's likeness was released for both the Super NES and the Sega Genesis.

Combs was master of ceremonies of the annual StarGaze charity events produced by Jim Kelly from 1993 to 1995.

Personal life[edit]

Combs was born in Hamilton, Ohio, on April 3, 1956. He graduated in 1974 from Garfield High School, where he was an actor, senior class president, and Boys State delegate. He declined a nomination to the United States Military Academy and served as a missionary from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years in Arizona.[2][3]

In July 1994, Combs was involved in a serious car accident along the SR 134 portion of the Ventura Freeway. He sustained an injury in one of his spinal discs, leaving him in severe and continuous pain.[6] Combs also struggled with financial problems after the failure of two of his comedy clubs (Caddy Combs and the Cincinnati Comedy Connection), and his home in Hamilton, Ohio, went into foreclosure.[7] In September 1995, he separated from Debbie, his wife of 18 years (with whom he had six children). The couple attempted to reconcile, but later refiled for divorce.[3]

Combs made several attempts to resurrect his television career. He taped a pilot for a talk show called The Ray Combs Show, but it was ultimately not picked up. Combs also hosted Family Challenge on The Family Channel from 1995–96, and made a number of appearances on the Game Show Network.

Death[edit]

On June 1, 1996, police were called to Combs' home at 1318 Sonora Avenue in Glendale, California, over reports of a disturbance. Combs had reportedly destroyed most of the inside of his house, and had also been banging his head against the walls, though Combs later told the police that he fell in the jacuzzi. Shortly after police arrived, Combs' estranged wife Debbie arrived and informed them that Combs was suicidal, and had spent the previous week in the hospital for a suicide attempt. He was taken by police to Glendale Adventist Medical Center, where he was assessed by a medical doctor and placed on a 72-hour psychiatric observation hold.[8] On June 2, 1996, at around 4:10 a.m., hospital personnel discovered Combs hanging by his bed sheets in the closet of his room. He was taken to the emergency room, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival, His death was ruled a suicide. He was 40 years old.[3]

On June 7, 1996, Combs' funeral was held at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Glendale. His remains were flown back to his hometown of Hamilton, Ohio, where he was interred at the Greenwood Cemetery.[9] Combs was survived by his parents, Ray Sr. and Anita Jean Combs; his wife; and their six children.[10]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1985 The Facts of Life Technician Episode: "Doo-Wah"
1986 You Again? Various roles 3 episodes
1987 The Golden Girls Bob Henderson Episode: "And Then There Was One"
1987 Overboard Cop at Hospital
1988 Amen Harold Buckner 2 episodes
1988 227 Himself Episode: "And the Survey Says..."
1988–1994 Family Feud Host
1992 WrestleMania VIII Himself
1992 The Larry Sanders Show Himself Episode: "Hey Now"
1993 In Living Color Himself Episode: "Forever Silky"
1993 Survivor Series Himself
1995 Vampire in Brooklyn Game show host Alternative title: Wes Craven's Vampire in Brooklyn
1995–1996 Family Challenge Host

References[edit]

  1. ^ Baber, David (August 11, 2009). Television Game Show Hosts. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-7864-4573-8.
  2. ^ a b c Armstrong, Coleen (February 1988). "Born to be funny". Cincinnati. pp. 17–18. Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d "Game Over". People. June 17, 1996. Archived from the original on March 16, 2011. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
  4. ^ Ray Combs. E!. E! True Hollywood Story. November 16, 1997.
  5. ^ Heenan, Bobby; Anderson, Steve (2004). Bobby the Brain: Wrestling's Bad Boy Tells All. Triumph Books. pp. 137–138. ISBN 978-1-5724-3668-8.
  6. ^ Johnson, Chip (1994-07-13). "'New Family Feud' TV Host Injured in Crash : Accident: Ray Combs is partially paralyzed following collision on Ventura Freeway, his agent says". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2022-01-13.
  7. ^ Hale, Juli (2018-01-17). "Remember this: Ray Combs' 500-seat Comedy Connection featured big laughs, big names". WCPO-TV. Retrieved 2022-01-13.
  8. ^ Condon, Lee (June 4, 1996). "Police To Probe Suicide Of Talk Show Host Who Hanged Self In Hospital". Daily News. Los Angeles. Retrieved May 17, 2010.
  9. ^ "Crowd attends funeral for former TV game show host". Portsmouth Daily Times. June 8, 1996. p. A3. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  10. ^ "Comedian Ray Combs commits suicide". Deseret News. June 3, 1996. p. A6. Retrieved January 15, 2013.

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by Host of Family Feud
1988–1994
Succeeded by
Richard Dawson