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Did You Know? Richard Dawson, the original host of Family Feud, met his second and last wife, Gretchen Johnson, in an episode of the show in May 1981
April 24, 2022

Once upon a time, circa 2000, I downloaded 90 episodes of Family Feud via Napster because I was bored and had broadband. The original show ran from 1976 to 1985. It was a daytime game show, wedged between a bunch of soap operas. So I only saw it when I was faking sick or really sick, and at home from school. There were a few prime time (night) special episodes of Family Feud, like the Three’s Company vs. The Love Boat vs. Soap vs. Eight is Enough casts episode in 1978. I saw the re-reruns, as obviously I was too young to remember this live.

Family Feud was definitely a beast of a different time. In those 90 episodes I downloaded, I was trying to count how many women British-born Richard Dawson kissed. That whole premise would never fly in today’s #metoo culture. But everyone loved Richard Dawson and Family Feud.

Dawson met his second wife, Gretchen Johnson, when she was a contestant in a May 1981 episode of the show. And yes, Richard kissed her and held her hand like he did many women. But you could tell he was smitten with her.

Richard and Gretchen married in 1991, ten years later. They stayed married for 21 years, until Dawson died of esophageal cancer on June 2, 2012. He was 79. Interestingly or otherwise, Dawson died exactly 16 years after his replacement host on the show, Ray Combs, committed suicide on June 2, 1996, at age 40.

Note that Dawson was the Family Feud host from 1976 until the original show ended in 1985. Combs took over when the show was rebooted from 1988 to 1994. Combs was fired from Family Feud in 1994 due to poor ratings. They brought Dawson back for one season (1994-95), but cancelled the show after that final Dawson year. The newer versions of Family Feud with Louis Anderson, Steve Harvey, et al. are not dignified here.

Dawson talked about how the whole “kissing women” thing started and how it almost ended in a lengthy 2011 interview with the Television Academy Foundation, just one year before his death. Dawson talked about how he was basically forced to continue kissing women because the subsequent show after the first time he did it, had Latino, Asian and Black families. He did not want to appear to be some racist POS. So he kissed those ladies too, and it just kept going. It’s a great story.

He also talked about how he courted Gretchen Johnson, who was 23 years his junior. He asked for her phone number right after the show. They dated for 10 years before getting married in 1991. Their daughter, Shannon Nicole Dawson, was born in 1990.

I loved television and radio from the time I was born until about 1997. Everything got weird (Ellen DeGeneres), manipulative (Telecommunications Act of 1996) and divisive (cable news) thereafter. And that was right when my media/broadcasting career was starting.

Radical feminists and others can say whatever they want today (probably Richard should kiss dudes or some other strange narrative). But everyone loved Richard Dawson. He was a lady’s man and the face of an iconic show for Generation X. RIP sir.

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