Richard Dawson

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Richard Dawson
Richard Dawson Hogan Hero headshot 1968.png
Dawson in 1968
Colin Lionel Emm

November 20, 1932
Gosport, Hampshire, England
DiedJune 2, 2012(2012-06-02) (aged 79)
Resting placeWestwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Game show host and panellist
Years active1960–1995
TelevisionHogan's Heroes (as Corporal Peter Newkirk)
Family Feud (host; 1976–85, 1994–95)
Match Game (panelist; 1973–78)
Diana Dors
(m. 1959; div. 1966)

Gretchen Johnson
(m. 1991; his death 2012)
Children3, including Mark

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).

Early life[edit]

Colin Lionel Emm was born in Gosport, Hampshire, England, on 20 November 1932[1] to Arthur Emm (born 1897) and Josephine Lucy (née Lindsay) Emm (born 1903).[2][3] His father drove a moving van and his mother worked in a munitions factory.[4] 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, he recounted how this experience severely limited his school attendance, stating that he attended school regularly for only two years.[5] At the age of 14, Emm ran away from home to join the British Merchant Navy where he pursued a career in boxing.[citation needed] 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.[6] 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.[7]



On 8 January 1963, Dawson appeared on the The Jack Benny Program, season 13, episode 15 as an audience member seated next to Jack, barely recognizable in glasses and false moustache.[8] In the same year Dawson made a guest appearance in The Dick Van Dyke Show (season 2, episode 27) playing the title role of Tracy Rattigan[9]

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, California. He gained fame in the television show Hogan's Heroes as Cpl. Peter Newkirk from 1965 to 1971.[10] 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, he was a regular joke-telling panellist 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.

Dawson was a frequent guest host for Tonight Show host Johnny Carson during the late 1970s. Before it was known how much longer Carson's tenure would last (Carson would host the show until 1992), Dawson was a serious 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.[11] Of the few Tonight Show episodes during Carson's time as host that did not air on the night that they were intended to, Dawson was a guest host on two of them; Della Reese suffered a near-fatal aneurysm mid-interview during one taping and the remainder of the episode was cancelled (Reese later recovered), and an episode featuring an untimely monologue regarding the danger of flying on airplanes was replaced with a repeat 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).

Game Show panelist & host[edit]

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).

Richard Dawson (host) and contestants on the pilot episode of Family Feud

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 titled 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 passed over. Goodson capitulated, and once seeing his talents as a host, hired Dawson to host Feud, which debuted on 12 July 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 after the 1978-79 season's first week of episodes, presumably due to 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 he won a Daytime Emmy Award for Best Game Show Host for his work on Family Feud.[7]

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.[12] 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. [13] On the 1985 finale, Dawson explained that he kissed contestants for love and luck, something his mother did with Dawson himself as a child.[1][14]

Later years[edit]

Dawson parodied his TV persona in 1987's The Running Man opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which he portrayed the evil, egotistical game-show host Damon Killian and 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."[15]

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 12 September 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.

Upon Dawson's return, he received a standing ovation after he walked on the set. Afterwards he said, "If you do too much of that, I won't be able to do a show for you because I'll cry." During the revival, he did not kiss the female contestants because of a promise he'd made to his young daughter to kiss only her mother. The final episode aired on 26 May 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.[16]

Dawson spent 9 years as the original host of Feud from 1976 to 1985. Excluding his second non-consecutive tenure (which lasted one year from 1994 to 1995), current host Steve Harvey is expected to surpass him as the longest consecutive tenured host of any version of Family Feud after the 2019-20 season.

In 2000, Dawson narrated TV's Funniest Game Show Moments on the Fox network.

Personal life and family[edit]

With his first wife, British actress Diana Dors, Dawson had two sons, Mark (born 1960) and Gary (born 27 June 1962). The marriage ended in divorce, and Dawson gained custody of both sons. He had four grandchildren.[17]

Upon retiring, Dawson remained in Beverly Hills, California, where he had lived since 1964. He met his second wife, Gretchen Johnson (born 22 September 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 his inaugural episode 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.[citation needed]

During the 1960s and 1970s, Dawson participated in various liberal movements, including the Selma to Montgomery marches and participated in a campaign for George McGovern before the 1972 presidential election.[18]

Death and tribute[edit]

Dawson died aged 79 from complications of esophageal cancer in Los Angeles, California, on 2 June 2012 at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.[1][12][19] He was interred in Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles.[20]

Dawson used to smoke almost four packs of cigarettes per day, and he could even be seen smoking on some episodes of Match Game and Family Feud. 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.[21]


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
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)


  1. ^ a b c "Former 'Family Feud' host Richard Dawson dies". CNN. 3 June 2012. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  2. ^ England and Wales Civil Registration Birth Index, Fourth Quarter, 1932. Found at
  3. ^ 1939 England and Wales Register found at
  4. ^ David Baber, "Television Game Show Hosts: Biographies of 32 Stars," pages 68-74. McFarland & Co., 2015. Found at:
  5. ^ The Bob Crane Show, KMPC-Los Angeles, September 15, 1972, back-to-school special. Found at:
  6. ^ New York passenger and crew lists for Colin Emm,
  7. ^ a b "Richard Dawson biography". NNDB. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
  8. ^ Jack Meets Max Bygraves, retrieved 27 November 2018
  9. ^ Racy Tracy Rattigan, retrieved 27 November 2018
  10. ^ "'Family Feud' TV Host Richard Dawson Dies At 79". KRDO-TV. Archived from the original on 5 June 2012. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  11. ^ Staff, By the CNN Wire. "Former 'Family Feud' host Richard Dawson dies - CNN". CNN. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  12. ^ a b Schwirtz, Michael (3 June 2012). "Richard Dawson, Host Who Kissed on 'Family Feud', Dies at 79". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
  13. ^ Royce, Brenda Scott (1998). Hogan's Heroes: The Unofficial Companion. Los Angeles: Renaissance Books. p. 103. ISBN 978-1-58063-031-3.
  14. ^ "'Family Feud' TV Host Richard Dawson Dies at 79". Time. 3 June 2012. Archived from the original on 9 June 2012. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger (13 November 1987). "The Running Man review". Chicago Sun-Times.
  16. ^ E! True Hollywood Story. Family Feud, 28 July 2002.
  17. ^ "Richard Dawson Dies: 'Family Feud' Host Was 79". ABC News. 3 June 2012. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  18. ^ Anderson, Penny P. "Richard Dawson getting involved". The StarPhoenix (July 20, 1973). Saskatoon. Retrieved 20 May 2018 – via Google News.
  19. ^ "TV star Richard Dawson passes away at 79"[permanent dead link],; accessed 24 December 2015.
  20. ^ "Richard Dawson (1932–2012)". Find A Grave. 7 July 2012.
  21. ^ April MacIntyre. "GSN honors Richard Dawson in special marathon". Monsters and Critics. Archived from the original on 8 November 2012. Retrieved 8 June 2012.

External links[edit]

Media offices
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Host of Family Feud
Succeeded by
Ray Combs
Preceded by
Ray Combs
Host of Family Feud
Succeeded by
Louie Anderson