Richard Dawson

Richard Dawson, the British entertainer best known as the original host of Family Feud, has died, The Associated Press reports. He was 79.

Dawson died Saturday from complications related to esophageal cancer at Ronald Reagan Memorial Hospital, his son, Gary, told the AP.

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Born Colin Lionel Emm in 1932 in England, Dawson ran away at 14 to join the Merchant Marine. After his discharge, he pursued a comedy career under the name Dickie Dawson, which he later changed to Richard Dawson. In 1963, he played a British entertainer on an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show before rising to fame as Cpl. Peter Newkirk on Hogan's Heroes in 1965.

After the wartime sitcom ended in 1971, Dawson performed on Laugh-In and was also a regular on The New Dick Van Dyke Show from 1973 to 1974. He appeared on game shows including I've Got a Secret, Masquerade Party and Match Game before he was tapped to host a new format called Family Feud.

The show debuted in 1976 on ABC and quickly became a hit. Dawson became known for kissing all of the female contestants and garnered the nickname, "The Kissing Bandit." (He later explained he kissed them for love and luck, like his mother used to do.) Dawson won a Daytime Emmy for best game show host in 1978. Both the syndicated and the daytime versions of Family Feud went off the air in 1985.

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"I've had the most incredible luck in my career," he told viewers at the time. "I never dreamed I would have a job in which so many people could touch me and I could touch them."

He went onto play an evil game show host in 1987's The Running Man and also hosted the last season of Family Feud's revived run on CBS in 1994.

Dawson is survived by his second wife, Gretchen Johnson (whom he met when she was a contestant on Family Feud in 1981). They had a daughter, Shannon, and Dawson had two sons, Mark and Gary, from his first marriage to British bombshell Diana Dors.