Richard Dawson was the original host of Family Feud from 1976-1985. The show was a huge hit and an instant success, mainly due to Richard’s charismatic and honest hosting style. However, the show was not without its controversies, and Richard did clash with producers at times. In this video, you’ll learn what really happened behind the scenes in the nine years that Richard Dawson hosted the wildly popular show.
Richard Dawson primarily started acting in the 60s, but it was when he started hosting Family Feud that he shot to fame. Richard beat out William Shatner for the role. And Family Feud became the most popular and highest-rated game show on television during most of its run while Richard was hosting. What many people loved about Richard was not only his charm and comedy, but also his candid demeanor with contestants. He was honest and quick witted but at times was very blunt, unlike most TV hosts. He would interact with contestants in a manner that was quite different from other hosts that were on TV.
Richard Dawson kissed contestants
Richard Dawson’s habit of regularly kissing female contestants was the biggest controversy on the show. He would kiss them on the cheeks, hands, and sometimes directly on the lips. He said he started doing it when he noticed how nervous a contestant was when she was trying to answer a simple question – specifically, she could not name a green vegetable. Richard kissed her, she answered the question, and her family ended up being the winners of the night.
He said that when he was young, his mother would kiss him and say “May God bless all the little children of the world” when he was nervous. And that it would always make him feel safe and comforted. He says he only does the kissing for love and luck. About a month after he adopted the kissing; the network tried to put it to a stop and claimed they were getting many complaints.
He got told by executives that the show’s advertisers felt it inappropriate to kiss women without knowing their relationship status. After Richard told to stop, he used airtime during the show to speak directly to the audience and viewers, to tell them to contact the network with their thoughts on the kissing. Based on the thousands of letters that the show received, the majority of viewers supported the kissing. Richard Dawson alleged that the only people that honestly had an issue with his kissing racially motivated. He says those people didnt like that he was kissing everyone, including black women. However, it said that contestants had to fill out a form prior to coming on the show and that they asked beforehand whether or not it’s okay if Richard kissed them. Apparently, very few women said no.
Family Fued contestant became the host’s wife
One contestant that received a kiss from Richard would go on to become his wife. Gretchen Johnson went on the show in 1981, and Richard was immediately smitten with her. He ended up kissing her four times that show. He felt an instant, strong chemistry with her and asked her out after the show. At first, she rejected his advances but eventually did agree to go on a date with him. Although the date went clumsily, they realized they shared a mutual romantic connection. Many fans of the show did not support the relationship because of Richard and Gretchen’s 25 year age gap. But their relationship was for the long haul. They had a daughter in 1990 and married in 1991.
When Richard came back to the show once again in 1994 to host for one season, he stopped greeting the female contestants with kisses like he used too. The sweet reason he gave up on the kissing was due to his daughter Shannon. He promised her that he would only kiss mom. Although many disappointed Richard didnt adopt his kissing again, it was for good reason. Richard and his wife stayed married until his death in 2012. Although his daughter Shannon convinced Richard to quit smoking his four packs of cigarettes a day in 1994; he died of esophageal cancer.
In one of his last interviews, Richard says the many decades he’s shared with his wife Gretchen is the best of his life. And that he is an immensely lucky man. If you’re enjoying this video so far, hit the like button and make sure to subscribe to our channel for more content like this.
Richard Dawson’s unique style
One of the reasons Family Feud was so popular was because of Richard Dawson’s unique style of hosting the show. He had great comedic timing and regularly engaged in witty banter with the contestants. He even coined the term “survey says,” one of the most recognizable phrases still used on the show today. However, his back and forth conversations with the contestants, although entertaining, was somewhat surprising and at times controversial. He was very blunt and did not hold back his thoughts. Most TV hosts try to be cordial with people and hide their true thoughts and feelings, trying to be as professional as possible.
But if Richard didnt like a contestant, he did not try to pretend he did. Sometimes, if a contestant gave a wacky answer, he would ask them if they were on drugs. In one instance, he told a player to start reading more books and watching less television. It said that although he was very welcoming and friendly, he also had a sarcastic and fiery streak that was very apparent on the show. He rarely held back his truths and wasnt afraid to put contestants in their place.
He stood out among the other game show hosts on TV, and his colleagues said he was a different type of person to work with. Despite this, many people that worked with him said that even when his ego inflated at his height of fame, he still had a very caring and generous side. He won an Emmy in 1978 for Best Daytime Game Show Host.
Richard Dawson’s clashes behind the scenes
For the first few years of Family Feud, Richard got along well with the show’s producers. But biographer David Baber mentions that success and fame affected Richard and the show, especially after he won the Emmy for Best Daytime Game Show Host. It was said that after winning the Emmy, he believed he was always right about everything and developed an air of arrogance. He became difficult and more demanding to work with. However, because he was so popular and Family Feud was the number one daytime show, he usually got his way even if producers disagreed with him.
When producer Howard Felsher had to make a decision about whether or not an answer can be accepted, Richard would overrule his decision on camera if he did not agree with it. Typically, it is unheard of for a host to step over a producer’s authority in that manner. In 1983, after years of clashing and fighting, Richard had Howard banned from the set, although Howard did keep his salary and retained the title of executive producer.
Richard Dawson’s legacy
Before Richard reached the pinnacle of his career with Family Feud, he was mainly known for his roles on Hogan’s Heroes and Match Game. Hogan’s Heroes was an American sitcom set in Nazi Germany, with Richard playing a British military corporal. From 1973-1978, Richard was a panelist on the game show Match Game. On Match Game, Richard was known for his comedic one-liners and zingers. However, when Richard started hosting Family Feud in 1976, he continued to do Match Game for another 2 years. Once he started hosting Family Feud, his behavior on the set of Match Game changed completely.
He was no longer joking around, or putting any effort in to be funny or even converse with the panel and host. He would not speak unless he was spoken too. Conversely, on Family Fued, he was his old self because he was the center of attention of his show. He simply showed up to Match Game, but on Family Feud, he put all his talent and energy in.
By the time Richard Dawson left Family Feud, the competition in the game show world had grown significantly, which contributed to a decline in ratings and ultimately led to the show’s cancellation. Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy exploded in popularity and became staples, and Family Feud ended in 1985. It came back to television in 1988 with a new host before going back off the air in 1995, after Richard came back to host a single season. It returned in 1999 and has been on TV since. After Richard left Family Feud, his career mostly dropped off. He did not do much other than a few voice-over roles, and was for the most part, retired. He died in 2012 and always remembered his years on Family Feud as the fondest time of his career.
Thanks for watching our video. Family Feud has had 6 hosts in total so far, with the most recent host being Steve Harvey. Steve Harvey has hosted the show the longest out of all the former hosts. Which Family Feud host is your favorite? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to like this video and subscribe to our channel if you havent already.