Colin Lionel Emm or Richard Dawson (born on November 20, 1932; died June 2, 2012) was a British-American actor, comedian, game show host and panelist in the United States. Dawson was well known for playing Corporal Peter Newkirk in Hogan's Heroes, as a regular panelist on Match Game (1973-1978) and as the original host of Family Feud (1976-1985 and 1994-1995). Dawson became a US citizen in 1984.
Colin Lionel Emm was born in Gosport, England on 20 November 1932 to Arthur Emm (born 1897) and Josephine Lucy (nee Lindsay) Emm (born 1903). His father drove a moving van and his mother worked in a munitions factory. He and his brother John Leslie Emm, who was five years older were evacuated as children during World War II to escape the bombing of England's major port cities in the south. In a radio interview with Hogan's Heroes co-star Bob Crane, Dawson recounted how this experience severely limited his school attendance, starting that he attended school regularly for only two years.
At age 14, he ran away from his home to join the British Merchant Navy where he pursued a career in boxing. During 1950 and 1951, he made several passages on the RMS Mauretania from Southampton to ports of call including Nassau, The Bahamas, Havana and New York. Following his discharge from the merchant service, Emm began pursuing a comedy career utilizing the stage name Dickie Dawson; when he reached adulthood, he revised his alias to Richard Dawson, the name which he later adopted.
On 8 January 1963, Dawson appeared on The Jack Benny Program, (season 13, episode 15) as an audience member seated next to Jack barely recognizable in glasses and false moustache. In the same year Dawson made a guest appearance in The Dick Van Dyke Show (season 2, episode 27) playing "Racy" Tracy Rattigan a lecherous flirt who was the summer replacement host for the Alan Brady Show.
In 1965, Dawson had a small role at the end of the film King Rat starring George Segal playing 1st Recon paratrooper Captain Weaver, sent to liberate allied POWs in a Japanese prison. Dawson had by then moved to Los Angeles, California. He gained fame in the television show Hogan's Heroes as Cpl. Peter Newkirk from 1965 to 1971. He had a minor role in Universal's Munster, Go Home!. A year later, Dawson released a psychedelic 45 rpm single including the songs "His Children's Paradise" and "Apples & Oranges" on Carnation Records. In 1968, Dawson was in the film The Devil's Brigade as Private Hugh McDonald.
Dawson was a frequent guest host of the Tonight Show, filling in for host Johnny Carson during the late 1970s. Before it was known how much longer Carson's tenure would last (Carson would host the show until 1992) Dawson was a contender for the role of Tonight Show host in the event that Carson left the show, a move that he was seriously considering during 1979-80. Of the few Together Show episodes during Carson's time as host that did not air on the night that they were intended, Dawson was a guest host on two of them. During one of these, actress Della Reese suffered a near-fatal aneurysm mid-interview during one taping, and the remainder of the episode was cancelled (Reese later recovered) Another episode featured an untimely monologue regarding the danger of flying on airplanes, so it was replaced with a repeat due to the fact that it would have aired the same night as the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in Chicago which killed all 273 people aboard. (The episode aired several weeks later)
Game Show Panelist and Host
Following the cancellation of Hogan's Heroes he was a regular joke-telling panelist on the short-lived syndicated revival of the game show Can You Top This? in 1970 and joined the cast of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In that same year.
After Laugh-In was cancelled in 1973, game show pioneer Mark Goodson signed Dawson to appear as a regular on Match Game '73 alongside Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly and host Gene Rayburn. Dawson, who had already served a year as panelist for Goodson's revival of I've Got a Secret proved to be a solid and funny player and was the frequent choice of contestants to participate in the Head-to-Head Match portion of the show's "Super-Match" bonus round, in which the contestant and a panelist of the contestant's choice had to obtain an exact match to the request of fill-in-the-blank. During Dawson's time on Match Game, he most often occupied the bottom center seat of the panel (he played one week of shows in the top center seat early on in the show's run).
Due to his popularity on Match Game, Dawson expressed to Goodson his desire to host a show of his own . In 1975, During Dawson's tenure as one of Match Game's regular panelists Goodson began developing on a spin-off game show Family Feud. Dawson's agent practically demanded that Dawson be considered as host even threatening that he would instruct Dawson not to display his characteristic wit on Match Game if he was overlooked. Goodson capitulated and once seeking Dawson's talents as a host hired Dawson to host Feud which debuted on July 12, 1976 on ABC's daytime schedule. Family Feud was a breakout hit, eventually surpassing the ratings of Match Game in late 1977. In 1978, Dawson left Match Game after the 1978-79 season's first week of episodes, presumably due to the recent introduction of the "Star Wheel" which affected his being selected for the "Head-to-Head Match" portion of the show's "Super Match" bonus round and he won a Daytime Emmy Award for Best Game Show Host for his work on Family Feud.
One of Dawson's trademarks on Family Feud kissing the female contestants earned him the nickname "The Kissing Bandit". Television executives repeatedly tried to get him to stop the kissing. After receiving criticism for the practice, he asked viewers to write in and vote on the matter. The mail response resulted in about 200,000 responses, the wide majority of whom were in favor of the kissing. On the 1985 finale, Dawson explained that he kissed contestants for love and luck, something his mother did with Dawson himself as a child.
Dawson parodied his TV persona in 1987's The Running Man opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, portraying the evil, egotistical game-show host Damon Killian. He received rave reviews for his performance. Film critic Roger Ebert (who gave the film a thumbs down) wrote "Playing a character who always seems three-quarters drunk, he chain-smokes his way through backstage planning sessions and then pops up in front of the camera as a cauldron of false jollity. Working the audience, milking the laughs and the tears, he is not really much different than most genuine game show hosts---and that's the film's private joke".
Dawson hosted an unsold pilot for a revival of the classic game show You Bet Your Life that was to air on NBC in 1988, but the network declined to pick up the show. In 1990, he auditioned to host the syndicated game show Trump Card but that role went to Jimmy Cefalo. On September 12, 1994 Dawson returned to the syndicated version of Family Feud replacing and succeeding Ray Combs---who had been fired because the show's ratings were spiraling downward. Dawson finished out what became the final season of the show's official second run (1988-95). Ratings for the show were not in good standing and Family Feud was out of production for the next four years.
Upon Dawson's return, he received a standing ovation after he walked on the set. Afterwards he said "If you do to much of that, I won't be able to give you a show for you because I'll cry". During the revival, he did not kiss the female contestants because of a promise he had made to his young daughter (Shannon Nicole) to kiss only her mother (Gretchen Dawson). The finale episode aired on May 26, 1995 and then Dawson officially retired. In 1999, he was asked to make a special cameo appearance on the very first episode of the current version of Family Feud when Louie Anderson was host at the time, but decided to turn down the offer and have no further involvement with the show.
In 2000, Dawson narrated TV's Funniest Game Shows on the FOX network.
Person Life and Family
With his first wife, British actress Diana Doris, Dawson had two sons, Mark (born 1960) and Gary (born June 27, 1962). The marriage ended in divorce and Dawson gained custody of both sons. He had four grandchildren.
Upon retiring, Dawson remained in Beverly Hills, California where he had live since 1964. He met his second wife Gretchen Johnson (born September 22, 1955) when se was a contestant on Family Feud in May 1981; they married in 1991. A daughter, Shannon Nicole Dawson was born in 1990. Dawson announced the birth and showed a picture of his daughter on the 25th Anniversary of Family Feud as no. 2 on Game Show Network's top 25 Feud Moments.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Dawson participated in various liberal movements including the Selma to Montgomery marches and participated in a campaign for George McGovern before the 1972 presidential election.
Health and Death
Dawson used to smoke almost four packs of cigarettes per day, and he could be even seen smoking on some episodes of Match Game and Family Feud. His daughter Shannon got him to stop smoking by 1994 when he was aged 61.
Dawson died at age 79 from complications of esophageal cancer in Los Angeles, California on June 2, 2012 at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He was interred in Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles. Ironically, he died on that very same day (although different years apart being separated between them) as his successor/replacement Ray Combs due to committing suicide sixteen years ago in 1996.
On June 7, 2012; GSN aired a four-hour marathon of Dawson's greatest moments on Match Game and Family Feud including the first episode of Dawson's 1994 season.
Current host of the ABC reboot of Card Sharks, Joel McHale was also born on November 20 (in 1971) while former host of the original Card Sharks, Jim Perry passed away on November 20 (in 2015) and his former co-host of the 80s version of $ale of the Century, Summer Bartholomew was also born on November 20 (in 1951).