Dawson in 1968
Colin Lionel Emm
20 November 1932
|Died||2 June 2012 (aged 79)|
|Resting place||Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery|
Game show host and panellist
|Television||Hogan's Heroes (as Corporal Peter Newkirk)|
Family Feud (host; 1976–85, 1994–95)
Match Game (panelist; 1973–78)
(m. 1959; div. 1966)
(m. 1991; his death 2012)
|Children||3, including Mark|
Richard Dawson (born Colin Lionel Emm; 20 November 1932 – 2 June 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 on 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).
Colin Lionel Emm was born in Gosport, Hampshire, England, on 20 November 1932 to Arthur Emm (born 1897) and Josephine Lucy (née Lindsay) Emm (born 1903). His father drove a moving van and his mother worked in a munitions factory. 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. At the age of 14, Emm ran away from home to join the British Merchant Navy where he pursued a career in boxing. 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, 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.
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. In 1963, Dawson made a guest appearance on The Dick Van Dyke Show (season 2, episode 27) playing the title role of "Tracy Rattigan."
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. 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 fill-in for Tonight Show host Johnny Carson during the late 1970s. Before it was apparent how long Carson's tenure would last (he hosted the show until 1992), Dawson was a serious contender for the role of host in the event that Carson left his position, a move that he was considering at the time. 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; a guest, Della Reese, suffered a near-fatal aneurysm mid-interview during one taping and the episode's production was halted (Reese later recovered), and an episode featuring an untimely monologue regarding the danger of flying on airplanes was replaced with a rerun due to the fact that it would have aired the same night as the Flight 191 crash (the episode aired weeks later).
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 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 occupied the bottom center seat of the panel.
In 1975, during his tenure as one of Match Game's regular panelists, Dawson was hired by Goodson to host another game show titled Family 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, he left Match Game and won a Daytime Emmy Award for Best Game Show Host for his work on Family Feud.
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, 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.  On the 1985 finale, Dawson explained that he kissed contestants for love and luck, something his mother did with Dawson himself as a child. Some viewers complained when he kissed the cheeks of non-white women, but in a 2010 interview he defended his actions, saying that "It's very important to me that on Family Feud I could kiss all people... I kissed black women daily and nightly on Family Feud for 11 years, and the world didn’t come to an end, did it?" After his first stint with Family Feud expired, Dawson was succeeded by Ray Combs.
Dawson parodied his TV persona in 1987's The Running Man, 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."
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 ion of Family Feud, replacing and succeeding Ray Combs. Combs was previously fired, because the show's ratings were spiraling downward. Dawson finished out for what became the final season of the show's official second run (1988–95). Still, 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. Between his two stints, Dawson spent 11 years as host of Family Feud, the longest of any host (current emcee Steve Harvey, who began hosting in 2010, is expected to match Dawson's tenure as he is signed through 2021).
In 2000, Dawson narrated TV's Funniest Game Show Moments on the Fox network.
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.
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.
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.
Dawson died at age 79 from complications of esophageal cancer in Los Angeles, California on 2 June 2012 at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He was interred in Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles.
Dawson used to smoke close to four packs 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 at the age of 61.
|1962||The Longest Day||British Soldier||Uncred|
|1966||Out of Sight||Agent||Uncred|
|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)|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Richard Dawson.|
| Host of Family Feud
| Host of Family Feud