Merv Griffin by Jemal Countess/WireImage.com
, 82, died of prostate cancer early on Sunday. His family issued a statement explaining that his recurrence of prostate cancer, for which he was hospitalized
earlier in the week
, progressed quickly.
The veteran talk-show host created a multimillion-dollar empire in the entertainment industry, most notably by producing
Wheel of Fortune
host Pat Sajak tells the
, "The loss of a dear friend has made it difficult to focus on Merv's enormous contribution to the world of entertainment. I'm dealing with deep sadness and the realization that I will never hear that wonderful laugh of his again. He meant so much to my life, it's hard to imagine it without him."
Former first lady Nancy Reagan remembers Griffin as "a dear, dear friend," telling the trade, "He was there for me on some of the hardest days when Ronnie was fighting Alzheimer's."
"To say that working with Merv Griffin was the highlight of our careers is an understatement," distribution partners Ritch Colkbert and Josh Raphaelson say in a statement. "[He was] a true Renaissance man... a genius in his work." -
Reporting by Megan Cherkezian and Matt Mitovich
Tune in to TV Guide Channel's half-hour special on Merv Griffin tonight at 9 pm/ET.