- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2007

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Merv Griffin, the big band-era crooner turned impresario who parlayed his “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” game shows into a multimillion-dollar empire, died yesterday. He was 82.

Mr. Griffin died of prostate cancer, according to a statement from his family that was released by Marcia Newberger, spokeswoman for The Griffin Group/Merv Griffin Entertainment.

From his beginnings as a $100-a-week San Francisco radio singer, Mr. Griffin moved on as a vocalist for Freddy Martin’s band, a film actor and a TV game-show and talk-show host, and he made Forbes’ list of richest Americans several times.

“The Merv Griffin Show” lasted more than 20 years, and Mr. Griffin said his capacity to listen contributed to his success.

“If the host is sitting there thinking about his next joke, he isn’t listening,” Mr. Griffin reasoned in a recent interview.

But his biggest break financially came from inventing and producing “Jeopardy” in the 1960s and “Wheel of Fortune” in the 1970s. After they had become the hottest game shows on television, Mr. Griffin sold the rights to Coca Cola’s Columbia Pictures Television Unit for $250 million in 1986, retaining a share of the profits.

“My father was a visionary,” Mr. Griffin’s son, Tony Griffin, said in a statement issued yesterday. “He loved business and continued his many projects and holdings even while hospitalized.”

When Mr. Griffin entered a hospital a month ago, he was working on the first week of production of a new syndicated game show, “Merv Griffin’s Crosswords,” his son said.

Mr. Griffin was also a longtime friend of former President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy.

“This is heartbreaking, not just for those of us who loved Merv personally, but for everyone around the world who has known Merv through his music, his television shows and his business,” Mrs. Reagan said in a statement.

She said Mr. Griffin “was there for me every day after Ronnie died” in 2004.

“Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak said he had lost “a dear friend.”

“He meant so much to my life,” Mr. Sajak said.

Mr. Griffin started putting the proceeds from selling “Jeopardy” and “Wheel” in Treasury bonds, stocks and other investments, but went into real estate and other ventures because, he said, “I was never so bored in my life.”

In recent years, Mr. Griffin also rated frequent mentions in the sports pages as a successful racehorse owner. His colt Stevie Wonderboy, named for entertainer Stevie Wonder, won the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2005.

In 1954, Mr. Griffin went to New York, where he appeared in a summer replacement musical show on CBS-TV, a revival of “Finian’s Rainbow” and a music show on CBS Radio. He followed with a few TV game-show hosting jobs, notably “Play Your Hunch,” which premiered in 1958 and ran through the early 1960s. His glibness led to stints as substitute for Jack Paar on “The Tonight Show.”

When Mr. Paar retired in 1962, Mr. Griffin was considered a prime candidate to replace him. Johnny Carson was chosen instead. NBC gave Mr. Griffin a daytime version of “The Tonight Show,” but he was canceled for being “too sophisticated” for the housewife audience.

Mervyn Edward Griffin Jr. was born in San Mateo, south of San Francisco on July 6, 1925, the son of a stockbroker. An aunt, Claudia Robinson, taught him to play piano at age 4, and he soon was staging shows on the back porch.

After studying at San Mateo Junior College and the University of San Francisco, Mr. Griffin quit school to apply for a job as pianist at KFRC radio in San Francisco. The station needed a vocalist instead. He auditioned and was hired.

Mr. Griffin and Julann Elizabeth Wright were married in 1958, and their son, Anthony, was born the following year. They divorced in 1973 because of “irreconcilable differences.” He never remarried.

The family said an invitation-only funeral Mass will be held at a later date at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, Calif.

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