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Richard Dawson
Richard Dawson, early 1960s.jpg
Dawson, c. 1960s
Colin Lionel Emm

20 November 1932
Gosport, Hampshire, England
Died 2 June 2012(2012-06-02) (aged 79)
Resting place Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
  • Actor
  • comedian
  • game show host
  • panelist
Years active 1954–2000
(m. 1959; div. 1967)

Gretchen Johnson
(m. 1991)
Children 3, including Mark

Richard Dawson (born Colin Lionel Emm; 20 November 1932 – 2 June 2012) was a British-born 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 as well as third host of Family Feud (1976–1985, 1994–95).

Early life

Colin Lionel Emm was born in Gosport, Hampshire, England, on 20 November 1932 to Arthur Emm (born 1897) and Josephine Lucy Emm (née Lindsay; born 1903). His father drove a removal van and his mother worked in a munitions factory. He and his brother John Leslie Emm (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, he began pursuing a comedy career using the stage name Dickie Dawson; he later changed his alias to Richard Dawson, which he eventually adopted as his legal name.


Comedy and variety artist in the UK

Emm began his career in England as a stand-up comedian known as Dickie Dawson. Possibly his first television appearance occurred on 21 June 1954, when he was 21 and was featured on the Benny Hill Showcase, an early BBC Television programme focused on "introducing artists and acts new to television".

He also had at least four BBC Radio programme 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 programme 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 alongside Dors, to whom he was by then married.

Actor and comedian in the US

In September 1961, Dawson began hosting a late-night talk show, the Mike Stokey Show, on Los Angeles television station KCOP-TV. On 8 January 1963, Dawson appeared on The Jack Benny Program, season 13, episode 15, as an audience member seated next to Jack, barely recognisable in glasses and false moustache. In the same year Dawson made a guest appearance on The Dick Van Dyke Show (season 2, episode 27) playing "Racy" Tracy Rattigan, a lecherous flirt who was the summer replacement host on the Alan Brady Show. He was credited as Dick Dawson.

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 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 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.

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 panellist 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 "Super-Match" bonus round, in which the contestant and a panellist of the contestant's choice had to match exactly. During Dawson's time on Match Game, he most often occupied the bottom centre seat, only sitting elsewhere (in the top centre seat) during one week early in the show's run.

Family Feud host and TV stardom

Richard Dawson Family Feud 1976
Dawson (left) and contestants on the pilot episode of Family Feud

Due to his 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 developing 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 were overlooked. Goodson capitulated and, once seeing Dawson's 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 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 burnout from his regular appearances on both Match Game and Family Feud. Also in 1978, he won a Daytime Emmy Award for Best Game Show Host for his work on Family Feud. After he left Match Game, his spot on the panel was filled with many other stars—most notably his best friend Bob Barker, who was then the host of The Price is Right.

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 (which also included a great deal of physical contact such as holding hands and touching), he asked viewers to write in and vote on the matter. The wide majority of the approximately 200,000 responses favoured 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. Dawson was a contender for the role of Tonight Show host in the event that Carson left the show, a move that Carson was seriously considering during 1979–80. (Carson ended up remaining as host until 1992.)

Later years

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.

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; the role went to Jimmy Cefalo.

On 12 September 1994, Dawson returned to Family Feud, hosting what would become the last season of the show's second run (1988–1995) after previous host Ray Combs was fired due to spiralling ratings. During his second tenure as host, Dawson did not kiss female contestants because of a promise he had made to his young daughter to kiss only her mother. The show's ratings never recovered under Dawson and the final episode aired on 26 May 1995, after which Dawson officially retired. Family Feud remained out of production until being revived for a third run in 1999 with new host Louie Anderson, who asked Dawson to make a special appearance on the first episode to give Anderson his blessings. Dawson turned down the offer, wanting 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, 4 February 1960) and Gary (born in Los Angeles, 27 June 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.

On 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 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 number two on the Game Show Network's top 25 Feud moments.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Dawson participated in various movements, including the Selma to Montgomery marches and George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign.


Dawson died at 79 from complications of esophageal cancer in Los Angeles on 2 June 2012 at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He is interred in Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles.

Dawson used to smoke almost four packs of cigarettes per day, and he was seen smoking on some episodes of Match Game, Family Feud, and Hogan's Heroes. His daughter Shannon convinced him to stop smoking by 1994, when he was 61.

On 7 June 2012, GSN aired a four-hour marathon of Dawson's greatest moments on Match Game and Family Feud, including the first episode of his 1994–95 Feud tenure.



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)


Year Title Role Notes
1963 The Jack Benny Program Man in audience Episode: "Jack Meets Max Bygraves"
1963 The Dick Van Dyke Show Tracy Rattigan (credit: Dick Dawson) Episode: "Racy Tracy Rattigan"
1964 The Outer Limits Oliver Fair (credit: Dick Dawson) Episode: "The Invisibles"
1964 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Robert Johnson (credit: Dick Dawson) Episode: "Anyone for Murder?"
1965–1971 Hogan's Heroes Corporal Peter Newkirk 168 episodes
1967 Mr. Terrific Max Episode: "The Formula Is Stolen"
1970 McCloud Ted Callender Episode: "The Stage Is All the Word"
1970–1973 Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In Regular performer 58 episodes (15 uncredited)
1971 Love, American Style Rick Jagmund Episode: "Love and the Groupie"
1971 Love, American Style Danny Episode: "Love and the Hiccups"
1972 Love, American Style Melvin Danger Episode: "Love and the Private Eye"
1972 Wait Till Your Father Gets Home Claude (voice) Episode: "The Hippie"
1973–1978 Match Game Panelist 1,279 episodes
1973–74 The New Dick Van Dyke Show Richard Richardson 7 episodes
1974–75 Masquerade Party Host
1975 The Odd Couple Himself Episode: "Laugh, Clown, Laugh"
1975 McMillan and Wife Roger Stambler Episode: "Aftershock"
1976–1985, 1994–95 Family Feud Host 2,334 episodes
1978 Fantasy Island Harry Beamus Episode: "Call Me Lucky/Torch Singer"
1978 The Love Boat Bert Buchanan Episode: "The Song Is Ended"
1979 Bizarre Host Pilot episode
2000 TV's Funniest Game Shows Narrator

See also

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