Many of you know Richard Dawson as the original host of Family Feud, others know him as the original host of Family Feud who kissed every female contestant that didn’t have visible cold sores, others know him as the original host of Family Feud who kissed every female contestant that didn’t have visible cold sores who died this past weekend, and still others know him as the villain in Running Man who spoofed his image as original Family Feud host who kissed every female contestant that didn’t have visible cold sores who died this past weekend. But, for us, we remember Dawson best for his prior work that helped birth Family Feud, his years next to (or below) Charles Nelson Reilly and Brett Somers on Match Game. Along with host Gene Rayburn, those three formed the nucleus of Match Game throughout the 70s, gleefully dabbling in double entendre, sipping a drink or two before (and sometimes during) tapings, and walking the tight rope of what censors would allow on daytime TV in 1975.
We vaguely remember seeing Match Game as a young child, far too young to really understand the game and the dated references, let alone the suggestive material, and we certainly had no concept of who the panelists were. But our personal connection to Match Game came later in the mid-2000s when it was in constant reruns on GSN (né The Game Show Network). At this time our father had undergone a silly surgery that involved part of his leg being refashioned into his jaw. While he spent an extended period of time in the hospital recuperating and learning how to be a bionic man, we spent an extended period of time watching reruns of The Match Game, which seemed to run on two-hour blocks, one after another after another. It’s weird to say – perhaps even somewhat morbid – but Match Game reminds of us good times spent with our family in a cold, sterile hospital room, munching on the spongy bread rolls my dad stowed away in the drawers that became his for two weeks. So to see Richard Dawson go is to see a friend go, someone who helped get our family through a particularly difficult time.
But even without Match Game‘s role as family therapy, we still would have a special affection for the show, because it revealed to us, for the first time, that people in the 70s (“old people”) could be funny. That TV could be loose, freewheeling, dangerous. There’s a lot that Dawson, Reilly, Somers, Betty White, Fannie Flagg, et al, got away with then that they probably couldn’t today (except for Betty White, since she’s been certified as a national treasure and the rule has been firmly established that the dirtier an older person is the funnier he or she is. Direct correlation). Yes, we all remember the gaffes on shows like The Newlywed Game, but those were more the exception than the rule. Match Game was a party, a kegger, and we were invited.
And if Gene Rayburn was throwing that party, and Charles Nelson Reilly and Brett Somers were the comedy tag-team trouble makers bringing the beer, then Richard Dawson was the preternaturally cool guy that everyone wanted to talk to. He oozed charisma, smooth and confident, pulling off a turtle neck and loud blazer combo like no one before and no one after. Reilly and Somers gave the party laughs, Dawson gave it cred; the boys came for the alcohol and the fun, the young, pretty girls came for Dawson. And, indeed, everyone literally wanted to talk to him, as he became such a popular choice in the final “Super Match” round that for a time contestants were forbidden from selecting him. And it was this unique acumen in the final rounds that was partly the inspiration for Family Feud, asking 100 people an inane question and listing the top answers. Of course, the other, more important, part of the inspiration was Dawson’s immense popularity, so big, in fact, that he had to start his own party. He may perhaps be the only game show panelist whose performance demanded a spin-off, a celebrity panelist who became a greater celebrity because of it.
So, yes, most people will remember Richard Dawson as the older, maybe even kinda creepy, guy who kissed every woman on Family Feud. But we’ll remember him as the laid-back, vaguely British guy on Match Game whom every woman wanted to kiss. And who, along with Reilly, Somers and Rayburn, gave our family a little cheer when we needed it, even if the party ended thirty years prior, the hangovers long since worn off, all four now gone off to that bright game show set in the sky.
One more time, a round of applause for Richard Dawson: