Monday, June 4, 2012

A Tribute To Richard Dawson

If there was any game show host that I admired for their laid back personality, but at the same time be able to attract an audience and stick out in the crowd, it would be Richard Dawson. Unfortunately, he lost his battle to cancer of the esophagus on Saturday, leaving us at the age of 79. Dawson had a very eventful career that spanned from the 60s to the 90s and that will be what he's remembered for the most. While he was very active during his life in the world of entertainment, he will be remembered most for four things. His role as Corporal Peter Newkirk on Hogan's Heroes, as a regular panelist on Match Game, as host of the original Family Feud, and for his role of game show host Damon Killian in The Running Man.

Richard Dawson was born Colin Emm in England on November 20, 1932. Changing his name to Dickie Dawson during his boxing career, he became Richard Dawson when he began acting. He made his first appearance on The Dick Van Dyke Show, but made his first huge role as Corporal Peter Newkirk on Hogan's Heroes. He was originally offered the role of Hogan, but was then denied the role, because of his British accent. Ultimately, the role of Hogan was given to Bob Crane. The show ran from 1965 to 1971 and garnered mixed reviews. While it had a following that it continues to garner, the take on a comedic approach to such a serious time period has turned people off. TV Guide named it the fifth worst show of all time. 

After Hogan's Heroes, Richard Dawson went on to star in Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In during the last season. His main role was as a butler. During the early seventies, Dawson was a panelist on several game shows, such as the reincarnation of I've Got A Secret. He made his big break as a panelist on Match Game, starring host Gene Rayburn and featuring other regular panelists such as Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly. Dawson became the show's most popular panelist and the one that the majority of contestants went to first for the Super Match and ultimately for the Head-To-Head Match. 

In 1976, Richard Dawson was given his own show to host, also produced by Mark Goodson. This show was Family Feud. He began to host the Feud and serve as a panelist on Match Game, but began to grow bored and uninterested in the latter. There were shows in which he wouldn't smile, one in which Gene Rayburn forced him to do so. In 1978, the Star Wheel was introduced, in which the contestant's head-to-head match decision would be based on the spin of the wheel. This took away attention from Dawson. He would eventually leave the show and stick with the Family Feud, which at this point was the game show in which he paid the most attention to, not making appearances on many others.

On the Feud, Richard Dawson was known for plenty of trademarks. He made "Survey Says!" a catchphrase repeated by many, he had a cool, sharp, and quick personality, but most famously, he kissed the ladies and he kissed them on the lips. This began on a show where a woman became nervous and wished she didn't come on. Dawson mentioned that he'll do something his mother did in such a situation, which was give a kiss on the lips. She quickly came up with a good answer and the trend continued from there. He would later mention that he did it for "luck and love," after facing much controversy. He kissed any woman, regardless of race, color, creed, or circumstance.

Plenty of memories came about on the show from 1976 to 1985. Dawson celebrated his 50th birthday on the show, Sammy Davis Jr. made an appearance and even hosted a round of the show, and Dawson even showed his passport to the audience when he became an American citizen in 1984.

The show came to an end in 1985, which proved to be an emotional finale. Dawson showed clear emotion throughout the episode and at the end of the show, gave a final speech to the audience. He gave mention to Howard Felcher, an executive producer that he previously clashed with, his mother, how he was who he was, and the girl that he signed to at the end of each episode. In footage that wasn't shown, he also wanted to mention a girl that died from illness when she was only eleven.

In 1987, Richard Dawson got a gig as game show host Damon Killian in The Running Man, a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and based off of the Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) novel, but only by name and basic concept. Killian was a cynical, villainous game show host that made up the heart of the film. It shows the structure of how a host could be a much different person once the cameras stop rolling. Much has been said that this was how Dawson was and that he very well could have been playing himself in this film.

He went on to host an unsold pilot of You Bet Your Life, but from there went into somewhat of a retirement. He married a former contestant on the show and the two of them had a daughter. He began to commit his life to them.

However, Dawson was then asked to return to the Family Feud after the show began to slip with Ray Combs in the hosting spot. Combs hosted the show from 1988 to 1993. When Dawson returned to the show in 1994, he got a long standing ovation. Unfortunately, the show didn't last and came to an end one year later. The show would return in 1999 and has since garnered hosts in Louie Anderson, Richard Karn, John O'Hurley, and Steve Harvey. This reboot of the show was Dawson's final appearance and he went into a complete retirement, only make archive appearances, as well as those in brief interviews.

What I will remember most about Richard Dawson is clearly his personality. Not many people could captivate a stage with the wit that he did. He may have not been the nicest person you've ever want to meet, but he was somebody who did what he needed to do in order to get the job done. That clearly could be seen during his healthy tenure on the Feud, given that he was the only host of that show to put more than five years into the show. 

His final speech to the audience when he ended his show in 1985 showed raw emotion as to how he felt about certain circumstances. To him, people were people, and he was going to treat them equally and encourage others to do the same. He accepted anybody on the show, whether they were in a wheelchair, blind, or came from a different background. To this day, if I were to go out in any way, that would be the way I'd want to go out, on a really strong note.

Richard Dawson will definitely be missed for what he has given to the world of entertainment. Rest in peace!

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