Richard Dawson Biography

(Actor, Comedian and Game Show Host)

Birthday: November 20, 1932 (Scorpio)

Born In: Gosport, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom

Richard Dawson was an English-American actor, comedian, game show host and panellist best known for hosting television game show Family Feud. The show was one of the highest rated daytime show and not only shot him to stardom but also won him an Emmy. Born in England, he first worked for the British Merchant Navy before becoming a stand-up comedian. After appearing on British television and radio, he moved to the US and began by doing small roles. His breakthrough role came with CBS sitcom, Hogan’s Heroes, where he portrayed the character of Cpl. Peter Newkirk. The show ran for six season and made him a popular celebrity. His other major television job was as a regular panellist of gameshow Match Game wherein his outgoing personality and charm won over the audience. Dawson also worked in numerous films, the most prominent amongst which was The Running Man co-starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. His performance in the film was hugely appreciated by the critics.

Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In November

Also Known As: Colin Lionel Emm

Died At Age: 79


Spouse/Ex-: Gretchen Johnson (m. 1991–2012), Diana Dors (m. 1959–1966), Gretchen Johnson (m. 1991–2012)

father: Arthur Emm

mother: Josephine Emm

siblings: John Leslie Emm

children: Gary Dawson, Mark Dawson, Shannon Dawson

Born Country: United States

Actors Game Show Hosts

Height: 5'9" (175 cm), 5'9" Males

Died on: June 2, 2012

place of death: Los Angeles, California, United States

Ancestry: British American

Cause of Death: Esophageal Cancer

More Facts

awards: Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show Host

Childhood & Early Life

Richard Dawson was born as Colin Lionel Emm on 20th November 1932 in Gosport, England. His father, Arthur Emm, was a van driver while his mother Josephine, Lucy Emm, was employed at a munitions factory. He had an elder brother John Leslie Emm.

As kids, he and his brother were evacuated from their home to escape the bombings during the Second World War. Due to this, he could attend school continuously for only a couple of years.

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As a teenager, Richard Dawson left his home and joined the British Merchant Navy where he spent the next three years. There, he started out as a laundryman and later became a waiter. During this time, he earned extra money by becoming an amateur boxer.

After completing his merchant navy service, he adopted the stage name Dickie Dawson and began performing as stand-up comedian in clubs in London's West End including the famous Stork Room. He changed to Richard Dawson once he became an adult.

The year 1954 saw him making an appearance on BBC television show, Benny Hill Showcase, as well as on two BBC Radio shows, Midday Music Hall and How Do You Do.

In 1958–1959, he appeared on various shows along with Diana Dors—who he married in 1959— including Alan Melville Takes You from A-Z, The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, The Diana Dors Show and Juke Box Jury.

After moving to the US in early 1960s, he began making quick appearances in several television shows. He acted in an episode each of The Jack Benny Program (1963), The Dick Van Dyke Show (1963), The Outer Limits (1964) and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1964).

During this time, he also made some uncredited and small appearances in movies like The Longest Day (1962) and Promises! Promises! (1963). In 1965, he played the role of a weaver in the movie King Rat.

His big break on the US television came when he was cast as the British officer Cpl. Peter Newkirk in the CBS series Hogan’s Heroes. The sitcom revolving around the prisoners of war in a German POW camp during WWII was a huge hit. It ran for six seasons between 1965 and 1971 and turned Richard Dawson into a star.

He continued starring in other films and television shows all this while. His films included Out of Sight (uncredited role, 1966), Munster, Go Home! (1966) and The Devil's Brigade (1968). On television, he acted in an episode each of Mr. Terrific (1967) and McCloud (1970).

The period also saw him releasing his 45 rpm single on Carnation Records. It comprised of songs His Children's Parade and Apples & Oranges.

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In 1970, he began making regular appearances in the gameshow Can You Top This? and also joined the team of the sketch comedy show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In wherein he continued as a regular cast member till 1973.

At the same time, he acted in three episodes of comedy anthology series Love, American Style (1971-1972). He also lent his voice for television series Wait Till Your Father Gets Home (1972) and Hong Kong Phooey (1974) as well as a movie Treasure Island (1973).

Additionally, he became a guest host on The Bob Braun Show (1972) and a panellist in I've Got a Secret (1972-1973 and again in 1976).

In 1973, he joined the celebrity panel of the television game show, Match Game. The show ran till 1978 and Dawson won over the audience with his outgoing personality and quick wit.

The success of Match Game got him another show – a spin-off game show – Family Feud which premiered on ABC television in 1976 and became a break-out hit. It ran till 1985.

At the height of its popularity, Family Feud was both the top daytime as well as top syndicated show. It was broadcasted eleven times in a single week with five during daytime.

Richard Dawson made an impression with his charm, wit and an ability to make people feel comfortable before the camera. He also became known for kissing all female contestants and hence got the nickname The Kissing Bandit.

On being criticised for the same, he asked viewers to vote in to tell him whether he should discontinue the practice. The response was overwhelmingly favourable towards continuing the tradition. He later said it was meant for love and luck and was what his mother did with him when he was a kid.

The 1970s also saw him acting in the seven episodes of sitcom, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, (1973–1974) and the television movie, How to Pick Up Girls! (1978). He acted in an episode each of television series The Odd Couple (1975), McMillan and Wife (1975), Fantasy Island (1978) and The Love Boat (1978) too.

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In 1979–1980, Richard Dawson guest hosted numerous episodes of NBC’s Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He was even in consideration to host the show in case the award winning host of the show retired. Johnny Carson ultimately decided against retiring and continued with the show.

In 1984, he hosted a television movie, I Remember It Well: ABC Daytime's 25th Anniversary Minutes and in 1988 a television special Richard Dawson and You Bet Your Life.

In 1987, his dystopian action film, The Running Man co-starring Arnold Schwarzenegger released. His portrayal of a conceited game show host Damon Killian won him rave reviews from critics and also an award.

In 1994, he returned to host the last season of Family Feud’s second run (1988–95) after which he officially retired.

In the year 2000, he narrated Fox television network’s show TV's Funniest Game Shows.

Family & Personal Life

Richard Dawson married English film and television actress, Diana Dors, in 1959 and they had two sons together named Mark and Gary. The couple divorced in 1967 with Dawson getting custody of the two sons.

His second marriage was with Gretchen Johnson who he met during the making of Family Feud in 1981. She was one of the contestants and the two married in 1991. A year earlier, their daughter Shannon Nicole Dawson was born.

He was addicted to nicotine and smoked four packets of cigarettes in a single day at one point of time. Later, his daughter persuaded him to leave smoking in 1994.

He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and died due to complications of the disease on 2 June 2012, at the age of 79.

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