After rising to fame on Hogan’s Heroes, Richard Dawson began his stint as a game show star, serving as a panelist on Match Game and later hosting Family Feud. The British-born actor’s colleagues and friends found him to be “different” than any other host on television at the time.
Inside Richard Dawson’s Early TV Career and Journey to ‘Family Feud’
Dawson was born Colin Lionel Emm in Gosport, Hampshire, England, on November 20, 1932. He joined the Merchant Navy as a teen, earning extra money by boxing during that time. Eventually, he found a knack for standup comedy, and appeared in multiple BBC series in the early ‘50s.
From 1965 to 1971, Dawson starred as Corporal Peter Newkirk in Hogan’s Heroes, marking his big breakthrough on American television. He also became a regular performer on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In until the sketch comedy show was canceled in 1973.
TV producer Mark Goodson eyed Dawson to join Match Game as a panelist in 1973, a gig that lasted 1,279 episodes. The comedian made such a favorable impression on the audience of the game show, Goodson appointed him as the host of Family Feud in 1976.
Why Did Richard Dawson Kiss Contestants on ‘Family Feud’?
During his time hosting the program, Dawson became known for his sarcasm and his trademark — kissing contestants. He earned the nickname “The Kissing Bandit,” and faced criticism for the gesture by some viewers and producers. Dawson maintained that it all started when one contestant’s nervousness prevented her from naming a green vegetable, leading him to kiss her to cure her anxiety.
“I said, ‘I’m going to do something that my mom would do to me whenever I had a problem of any kind. … And I kissed her on the cheek, and I said, ‘That’s for luck.’ And she said, ‘Asparagus.’ … They went on to win,” he told the Archive of American Television in 2010.
More than a decade after the comment was made, new claims came to light about the policies on the set of Family Feud. In the book Outrageous: A History of Showbiz and the Culture Wars, author Kliph Nesteroff alleged that Family Feud contestants had to “undergo a mouth test with a magnifying glass from medical distaff,” due to Dawson’s kissing habit.
“When you watch clips of that era of Family Feud on YouTube and you see Richard Dawson kissing the ladies, a lot of the comments in the comment section will say things like, ‘Well, it was a different time. That’s the way men were back then. It was a different time. People weren’t so sensitive,’” Nesteroff told People in November 2023. “And here, again, is evidence to the contrary that all kinds of people were complaining.”
Was Richard Dawson Married?
Dawson was married twice, first to actress Diana Dors from 1959 to 1967 and then to Gretchen Johnson from 1991 up until his death. During his marriage to Dors, Dawson became a dad to sons Mark and Gary.
He met Johnson when she was a contestant on Family Feud in 1981. They got married a decade later, and welcomed daughter Shannon together, leading his priorities to shift.
“After her appearance in 1981, he called her, asked her out on a date and they moved in together,” author David Baber previously told Closer. “They lived together for several years, got married [in 1991] and had a daughter, Shannon. So, he’d spent all of those years just being a family man.”
What Did Richard Dawson Die From?
Dawson died on June 2, 2012, at age 79 from complications of esophageal cancer. Following his death, GSN aired a marathon of the Emmy winner’s best moments on Match Game and Family Feud.
“I’ve had the most incredible luck in my career,” he once reflected in 1985. “I never dreamed I would have a job in which so many people could touch me, and I could touch them. This has been a very special nine years of my life and if I never do another thing, I’ve met the good, sweet people of the world. God bless all the little children of the world.”