Combs in a 1988 publicity photo for Family Feud
|Born||Raymond Neil Combs, Jr.
April 3, 1956
|Died||June 2, 1996
|Cause of death||Suicide by hanging|
|Resting place||Greenwood Cemetery|
|Education||Garfield High School|
|Occupation||Actor, comedian, game show host|
|Known for||Hosting Family Feud (1988–1994)|
|Spouse(s)||Debbie Combs (1977-1996)|
Combs began his professional career as a stand-up comedian in the 1980s. His popularity on the stand-up circuit led to him being signed as the host of the revival of the game show Family Feud. The show aired on CBS and was in syndication until 1994. From 1995 to 1996, Combs hosted another game show Family Challenge.
Beset with marital and financial problems, Combs hanged himself in the closet of the psychiatric ward of Glendale Adventist Medical Center where he was being held for observation in June 1996.
Combs was born in Hamilton, Ohio. He graduated from Garfield High School in 1974, where he was an actor, senior class president, and Boys State delegate. Combs declined a nomination to the United States Military Academy to serve as a Mormon missionary for two years in Arizona.
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; the comedian encouraged him to continue in comedy. In 1982, convinced that he was better than others he saw appear on The Tonight Show, Combs quit 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 young comedians, and began doing audience warm-ups for sitcoms such as The Golden Girls and Amen. Combs became so popular that other sitcoms changed their production schedules just so they could get him to warm up their audiences. Johnny Carson heard the audience's laughter and then invited Combs to perform on The Tonight Show in October 1986; the audience gave the comedian a standing ovation.
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. 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 1988, game show producers Mark Goodson and Howard Felsher gave Combs a seven-year contract to host a new version of Family Feud. The program premiered July 4, 1988 on CBS's daytime lineup, and a syndicated version was launched two months later, 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 and The Price Is Right to discuss the new version of Family Feud.
On June 29, 1992, CBS expanded the daytime show from thirty minutes to one hour. A new "Bullseye" round was added and the show was re-titled Family Feud Challenge. On September 14, 1992, the Bullseye round was integrated into the syndicated run which remained thirty minutes in length, but was re-named as The New Family Feud. Combs was one of the most seen emcees on television during the 1992-93 season with an hour and a half of Family Feud airing five days a week.
Midway through the 1992-93 season, ratings for the show began to plummet. CBS canceled the daytime version in early 1993 and ended on March 26 (with reruns airing until September 10) as many CBS affiliates had dropped the show entirely by that time. The syndicated version was also in danger of cancellation (as many stations had also dropped the syndicated version entirely or moved it into overnight time slots). Jonathan Goodson, who became chairman of Mark Goodson Productions after the death of his father, Mark Goodson, a year earlier, made the decision to replace Combs with original host Richard Dawson in the hopes of spiking ratings. By all accounts, Combs was hurt by his dismissal from the show. His final episode was taped sometime in February 1994 and aired in first-run syndication on May 27 of that year. While his final episode of Family Feud seemed like any other, during his final "Fast Money" bonus round, the five answers given by the second contestant each netted zero points. Combs joked, "You know, I've done this show for six years and this [is] the first time I had a person that actually got no points and I think it's a damn fine way to go out. Thought I was a loser until you walked up here, you made me feel like a man!" After signing off, with ending credits rolling, Combs immediately walked off the set, went to his dressing room to get changed, left the CBS Television City facility without saying good-bye to anyone, got into his car and drove home.
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 between the Hart Family and Shawn Michaels and his Knights. These two appearances were also met with 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 demeaned by being a game show host.
Combs also 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 was released for the Super Nintendo console. In July 1994, the game would be released for Sega Genesis, with the in-game host in both versions resembling Combs.
In July 1994, Combs injured his spinal disc in a car accident which left him in permanent pain. He also went through financial problems after two of his comedy clubs failed and his home in Hamilton, Ohio, went into foreclosure. In September 1995, Combs and Debbie, his wife of 18 years (with whom he had six children), separated. The couple reconciled but later refiled for divorce.
Combs made several attempts to revive his television career, including taping a pilot for a talk show called The Ray Combs Show, which ultimately was not picked up. He also hosted Family Challenge from 1995 to 1996 on The Family Channel. Combs also made a number of appearances on the Game Show Network. Approximately one week prior to his death, Combs appeared on television for the last time, live on a Memorial Day edition of The Home and Family Show with Cristina Ferrare and Chuck Woolery on May 27, 1996, where he talked about his experiences while hosting Family Challenge.
On June 1, 1996, police were called to Combs's home at 1318 Sonora Avenue in Glendale, California over reports of a disturbance. Combs had reportedly destroyed the inside of his home and had also been banging his head against the walls. Shortly after police arrived, Combs's estranged wife Debbie arrived and informed police that Combs was suicidal and had spent the previous week in the hospital for a suicide attempt. He was involuntarily admitted to the psychiatric ward of Glendale Adventist Medical Center in Glendale by the police and placed on a 72-hour mental observation hold. Early the next morning, Combs fashioned a noose from his hospital sheets and hanged himself in a closet.
Combs's funeral was held on June 7 at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Glendale. His body and casket was flown back to his hometown of Hamilton, Ohio, where he was interred in Greenwood Cemetery in his native Hamilton, Ohio. Combs was survived by his parents, Ray, Sr. and Anita Jean Combs, his wife Debbie and their six children.
Unbeknownst to Combs's widow, Debbie, he was deeply in debt at the time of his death. At the height of his career, Combs was earning close to $1,000,000 per year but reportedly had difficulty managing his money. In addition to his two failed comedy clubs in Hamilton, Combs owed $100,000 in back taxes, $150,000 in loans and credit cards, and had a $470,000 mortgage. The bank foreclosed on the family's Glendale home and Debbie was forced to sell off some of her husband's autographed photos and celebrity caricatures. A benefit was held at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood which netted $10,000 for the family. Johnny Carson, who had given Combs his first break in show business, sent Debbie a check for $25,000, writing her "I hope this will ease the burden".
|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..."|
|1992||The Larry Sanders Show||Himself||Episode: "Hey Now"|
|1993||In Living Color||Himself||Episode: "Forever Silky"|
|1995||Vampire in Brooklyn||Game show host||Alternative title: Wes Craven's Vampire in Brooklyn|
- Armstrong, Coleen (February 1988). "Born to be funny". Cincinnati. pp. 17–18. Retrieved November 28, 2011.
- "Game Over". People 45 (24). June 17, 1996. ISSN 0093-7673.
- Baber, David. Television Game Show Hosts. McFarland: Jefferson, North Carolina, 2008, page 39.
- E!: True Hollywood Story: "Ray Combs"
- Family Feud - Ray Combs Finale (Part 2 of 2), October 5, 2011, retrieved October 3, 2011
- E! True Hollywood Story: "Family Feud"
- Heenan, Bobby; Anderson, Steve (2004). Bobby the Brain: Wrestling's Bad Boy Tells All. Triumph Books. pp. 137–138. ISBN 1-57243-668-9.
- 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.
- "Crowd attends funeral for former TV game show host". Portsmouth Daily Times. June 8, 1996. p. A3. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
- "Comedian Ray Combs commits suicide". The Deseret News. June 3, 1996. p. A6. Retrieved January 15, 2013.
- Mitchell, Emily; Baker, Ken (October 7, 1996). "Those Left Behind". People 46 (15). ISSN 0093-7673.
|Host of Family Feud