Richard Dawson was born Colin Lionel Emm in Gosport, Hampshire, England, on November 20, 1932 to an American father and English mother. At the age of 14 he ran away from home to join the Merchant Marine, where he pursued a boxing career. After his discharge, he pursued a comedy career using the stage name Dickie Dawson. He would later officially legalize the name Richard Dawson . In the course of his career in comedy Dawson is known to have played the London Palladium.
In 1963, Dawson appeared in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show in the role of dapper Brit entertainer "Racy Tracy" Rattigan. He played a British soldier in the 1962 film The Longest Day. 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. Having married British sex symbol Diana Dors, Dawson moved to Los Angeles, California, where he gained fame in the television show Hogan's Heroes as Cpl. Peter Newkirk. The war-related sitcom was one of the highest-rated shows on television during its six-year run from 1965 to 1971.
During the run of Hogan's Heroes, Dawson introduced sitcom costar Bob Crane (a long-time photography enthusiast) to John Henry Carpenter, who worked with the video department at Sony Electronics and had access to early video tape recorders. In later years, Carpenter, who photographed some of Crane's sexual escapades with various women, would be implicated in but acquitted of Crane's murder.
In 1967, Dawson released a psychedelic 45rpm single including the songs "His Children's Parade" and "Apples & Oranges" on Carnation Records. In 1968, Dawson was in the film The Devil's Brigade, as Private Hugh McDonald. Dawson and Dors eventually divorced, and he gained custody of both their children, Gary and Mark. Immediately following the cancellation of Hogan's Heroes, Dawson performed as a regular on the popular NBC variety show Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In from 1971 to 1973 and would also be a regular on The New Dick Van Dyke Show from 1973 to 1974. Dawson also portrayed a theater director in the first season of McCloud and appeared as a panelist on the 1972–73 syndicated revival of I've Got a Secret.
After Laugh-In left the airwaves 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 gameplayer and was the frequent choice of contestants for the "Head-To-Head Match" portion of the show's "Super-Match" bonus round, in which, after winning prize money in the "Audience Match" portion, the contestant and Dawson (or any celebrity the contestant chose) had to obtain an exact match to the requested fill-in-the-blank.
Dawson's position on the panel was the lower middle seat, directly below fellow regular Somers.
Dawson hosted a one-season syndicated revival of Masquerade Party in 1974; the program featured regular panelists Bill Bixby, Lee Meriwether, and Nipsey Russell. Produced by Stefan Hatos and Monty Hall (of Let's Make a Deal fame), the programme was not popular enough to warrant a second season.
In 1975, during his tenure as one of Match Game's regular panelists, Dawson was hired by Mark Goodson to host an upcoming project titled Family Feud, which debuted on 12 July 1976, on ABC's daytime schedule. Unlike his flop with Masquerade Party, Family Feud was a breakout hit, eventually surpassing the ratings of Match Game in late 1977. In 1978 he left Match Game and won a Daytime Emmy Award for Best Game Show Host for his work on Family Feud.
One of his trademarks, kissing all the female contestants, was one of the things that made the show appear to be a warm and friendly programme, and he soon garnered the nickname The Kissing Bandit. On the 1985 finale Dawson explained that he kissed contestants for love and luck, something his mother did with Dawson himself as a child. In 1983, Dawson made an appearance on Mama's Family as himself, hosting an episode of Family Feud where the Harpers play as contestants (reuniting him with former Match Game co-panelists Betty White and Vicki Lawrence). After Dawson became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1984 he proudly showed his passport and photo during the introduction of an episode of Family Feud.
Dawson continued hosting the Feud until both editions were cancelled; the ABC Daytime edition on June 14, 1985 and the syndicated edition three months later on September 13, 1985.
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, which would go on to attempt two more failed revivals with hosts Buddy Hackett and Bill Cosby. On 12 September 1994, Dawson returned to the syndicated edition of Family Feud, replacing Ray Combs for what became the final season of the show's official second run (1988–1995).
On Dawson's first show upon his return he received a 25-second standing ovation when he walked on set. Afterwards he said, "If you do too much of that, I won't be able to do a show for you because I'll cry." During the revival, he did not kiss the female contestants, because of a commitment he made with his wife and daughter. The final episode aired on 26 May 1995. After Family Feud, Dawson decided to retire from show business. In 1999, he was asked to make a special appearance on the first episode of the current version of Family Feud, but decided to turn the offer down and have no further involvement with the show. In 2000, Dawson narrated TV's Funniest Game Show Moments on the Fox network.
Upon retiring, Dawson took up residence in Beverly Hills, California, with his wife since 1991, the former Gretchen Johnson, whom he met when she was a member of one of the contestant families on Family Feud in 1981. They had a daughter named Shannon Nicole Dawson. Dawson announced this and showed a picture of his daughter on an episode in the 1994 version of the Feud — as he was greeting one of the contestants who happened to be a former contestant of his while he was a panelist on The Match Game. The episode was featured on the 25th Anniversary of Family Feud as No. 14 on the Game Show Network's Top 25 Feud Moments.
He also had two sons, Mark Dawson (born 1960) and Gary Dawson (born 1962), from his previous marriage to Diana Dors. Richard also had five grandchildren: Lindsay Dors Dawson, Tyler Emm Dawson, Emma Rose Dawson, Walter "Melons" Dawson, and Lauren Dawson.
Good Night Mr. Dawson