(Reuters) - Richard Dawson, an actor and TV host best known for his work on the game show “Family Feud” and sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes,” has died from complications of esophageal cancer. He was 79.
The British-born actor died on Saturday at Ronald Reagan Memorial hospital in Los Angeles, his son Gary Dawson said on Sunday.
Dawson appeared on numerous TV shows in the 1960s, but it was his job as the emcee of “Family Feud” where his wit and charm served him best as he helped make the program a big hit of the 1970s.
“Feud,” which debuted in 1976 with members of two different families competing against each other by trying to guess the results of survey questions, became a No. 1 U.S. daytime TV show for a time.
Over the years, “Feud” expanded into prime-time specials featuring top celebrities and made Dawson the highest-paid game show emcee of his day. It was canceled in 1985, but reborn in syndication. Various incarnations with different hosts have aired since then.
“He was loved by millions of Americans as a television icon, but loved even more as a husband, a father, and grandfather by his family,” Gary Dawson wrote on his Facebook page.
Richard Dawson, whose given name was Colin Lionel Emm, was born on November 20, 1932, in Gosport, England. At age 14, he joined the merchant marines and served for three years. After his discharge, he worked as a stand-up comedian in London clubs including the legendary “Stork Room,” where he met actress Diana Dors. She became his first wife in 1959.
Dawson soon transitioned from British comedian to Hollywood actor appearing on many top TV programs of the early 1960s, such as “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.”
His role as a military prisoner in the 1965 film “King Rat” led to TV’s “Hogan’s Heroes,” about a band of allied POWs in a German camp who were constantly fooling their captors. Dawson portrayed Briton Peter Newkirk, who possessed a clever mind and a quick wit in the hit show that ran from 1965 to 1971.
When the program went off the air, Dawson began appearing as a celebrity panelist on a number of TV game shows, including the popular “Match Game,” and those appearances eventually led to his hosting duties on “Family Feud.”
Beyond TV, Dawson appeared in movies, including a co-starring role alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Stephen King sci-fi film “The Running Man.” In 2000, Dawson retired.
At the height of his success on “Feud,” he met contestant Gretchen Johnson, who would become his second wife. Dawson is survived by Johnson, two sons, a daughter and four grandchildren.
Reporting by James B. Kelleher and Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Beech