Richard Dawson has enjoyed the highest highs and dealt with the lowest lows in his professional career.
Dawson, a popular British comedian, got his first break in America as Peter Newkirk on Hogan's Heroes, which aired from 1965-1971. After that classic series came to a close, Dawson signed on for the last two years of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, the fading-but-still-quite-popular comedy/variety show.
It was around this time that Dawson came to be a frequent guest panelist on game shows, most notably Steve Allen's I've Got a Secret, where the Dawson-Goodson & Todman association began. Dawson was so amusing on Secret that he was signed to appear on the premiere week of Match Game '73. Soon enough, he was signed as a regular.
MG kept Dawson in high profile for the next couple of seasons, as the show became the highest-rated program in daytime. (In '74, Dawson moonlighted as host of a game show called Masquerade Party for another company.) Soon, Mark Goodson decided a spinoff was in order, and took the "Audience Match" element as the basis for a new game called Family Feud. Goodson decided since he had an MG spinoff, why not let an MG star - Dawson - host?
Family Feud premiered in July of 1976 on ABC. Soon, it had dislodged MG as America's favorite game show, and it was soon running ten (for a few months, even fifteen) times a week. Dawson's sly humor and penchant for kissing the female contestants were just as valid of reasons for its success as the survey game itself.
Dawson, however, did not handle fame well. While on camera he was the same lovable guy that America had embraced, his ego was growing to gargantuan proportions. He clashed regularly with the Feud staff, going as far as to have the producer barred from the set. The hostility spread to MG around late '77; Dawson withdrew from the rest of the cast, stopped making jokes, even refused to smile on camera and rebuffed audience requests for him to do so on one bizarre episode. The frustrated producers offered Dawson a chance to get out of his contract; Dawson finally quit MG on very bad terms in early '78.
In the meantime, Feud was still huge. That is, until 1983, when the syndicated version started losing viewers in droves to a new show called Wheel of Fortune. The syndie Feud was cancelled in 1984; the ABC daytime show died a year later with one of the most tear-filled goodbyes in TV history.
Dawson was unable to find any more work in TV after Feud - he was, effectively, blackballed. His only major appearance of the late 1980's was a memorable turn as an evil game show host in Arnold Schwartzenegger's The Running Man. Mark Goodson had publically stated that Dawson would again work for his company only upon Goodson's death. Sure enough, Feud reappeared in 1989 with a new host, Ray Combs.
In the meantime, the Dawson ego, predictably, shrunk. He had married a lady named Gretchen, who he had met as a Feud contestant. In 1990, Gretchen gave birth to a daughter, Shannon Nicole. (A son from a previous marriage, Gary, had served on the Feud staff.) Rumors of a comeback to host a new version of You Bet Your Life popped up around this time, but Dawson's pilot went nowhere; the show eventually appeared (and flopped) with Bill Cosby as host.
After Mark Goodson passed away and ratings for the Ray Combs version of Feud dropped, Goodson's son Johnathan brought Dawson back for one more run as Feud's host in 1994. a grateful Dawson, now 62, was in top form, but the show - ironically, welcoming back an old host with a new, barren, lifeless set - was not. It was cancelled after a year.
Dawson is happily semi-retired and still makes appearances on Game Show Network from time to time.