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Richard Dawson, 'Family Feud' host, dies at UCLA Medical Center

Obit Richard Dawson

AP

File: This June 1978 photo shows Richard Dawson, host of "Family Feud" in character. Dawson, the wisecracking British entertainer who was among the schemers in the 1960s sitcom "Hogan's Heroes" and a decade later began kissing thousands of female contestants as host of the game show "Family Feud" died Saturday, June 2, 2012. He was 79.

Richard Dawson, the wisecracking British entertainer who was among the schemers in the 1960s sitcom "Hogan's Heroes" and a decade later began kissing thousands of female contestants as host of the game show "Family Feud" has died. He was 79.

Dawson, also known to TV fans as the Cockney POW Cpl. Peter Newkirk on "Hogan's Heroes," died Saturday night from complications related to esophageal cancer at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, his son Gary said.

The game show, which initially ran from 1976 to 1985, pitted families who tried to guess the most popular answers to poll questions such as "What do people give up when they go on a diet?

He made his hearty, soaring delivery of the phrase "Survey says..." a national catchphrase among viewers.

Dawson won a daytime Emmy Award in 1978 as best game show host. Tom Shales of The Washington Post called him "the fastest, brightest and most beguilingly caustic interl ocutor since the late great Groucho bantered and parried on 'You Be Your Life.'" The show was so popular it was released as both daytime and syndicated evening versions.

His swaggering, randy style (and British accent) set him apart from other TV quizmasters. He was known for kissing each woman contestant, and at the time the show bowed out in 1985, executive producer Howard Felsher estimated that Dawson had kissed "somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000."

"I kissed them for luck and love, that's all," Dawson said at the time.

One of them he kissed was Gretchen Johnson, a young contestant who appeared with members of her family in 1981. After a decade together, she and Dawson wed in 1991. They had a daughter, Shannon.

Dawson reprised his game show character in a much darker mood in the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film "The Running Man," playing the host of a deadly TV show set in a totalitarian future, where convicts try to escape as their executioners stalk them. "Saturday Night Live" mocked him in the 1970s, with Bill Murray portraying him as leering and nasty, even slapping one contestant (John Belushi) for getting too fresh.

The British-born actor already had gained fame as the fast-talking Newkirk in "Hogan's Heroes," the CBS comedy that starred Bob Crane and mined laughs from a Nazi POW camp whose prisoners hoodwink their captors and run the place themselves.

Despite its unlikely premise, the show made the ratings top 10 in its first season, 1965-66, and ran until 1971. "We ran six years," Dawson once quipped, "a year longer than Hitler."

Dawson is survived by his widow, Gretchen, their daughter Shannon, two sons, Mark and Gary, from his first marriage, and four grandchildren.

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