- Associated Press - Sunday, June 3, 2012

LOS ANGELES — Richard Dawson brought a saucy, unabashedly touchy-feely style to TV game shows as host of “Family Feud.”

The British-born entertainer, who died Saturday at age 79 from complications related to esophageal cancer at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, earlier had made his mark in the unlikely 1960s sitcom hit “Hogan's Heroes,” which mined laughs from a Nazi POW camp whose prisoners hoodwink their captors and run the place themselves.

But it is as the kissing, wisecracking quizmaster of “Feud” that he will be remembered.

The show, which initially ran from 1976 to 1985, pitted a pair of families against each other as they tried to guess the most popular answers to poll questions such as “What do people give up when they go on a diet?”

Dawson made his hearty, soaring pronouncement of the phrase “Survey says…” a national catchphrase among the show’s fans.

He won a daytime Emmy Award in 1978 as best game show host. Tom Shales of The Washington Post called him “the fastest, brightest and most beguilingly caustic interlocutor since the late great Groucho bantered and parried on ‘You Bet Your Life.’” The show was so popular it was released as both daytime and syndicated evening versions.

And it was quickly validated by “Saturday Night Live,” with Bill Murray in a satirical homage to Dawson as a leering, nasty figure who even slapped one contestant (John Belushi) for getting too fresh.

Not that everyone approved.

In his classic 1981 cultural analysis “Within the Context of No Context,” George W.S. Trow identified “the important moment in the history of television” as the moment when Dawson asked his contestants “to guess what a poll of 100 people had guessed would be the height of the average American woman.

“Guess what they’ve guessed,” sniffed Trow, harping on the meaninglessness of such an enterprise. “Guess what they’ve guessed the AVERAGE is.”

Obviously, “Feud” fans would have feuded with Trow’s dismissive attitude.

For one thing, Dawson played the show, and his duties presiding over it, for laughs.

On one episode, he posed this question to a contestant: “During what month of pregnancy does a woman begin to look pregnant?”

She blurted out “September,” then, too late, realized this was a ridiculous response.

All the better for Dawson, who couldn’t stop laughing — or milking the moment for continued laughs from the audience.

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