Richard Dawson, a veteran TV actor who parlayed his Cockney accent into roles on comedies like "Hogan's Heroes" and the smash game show "Family Feud," has died in a Westwood hospital, his family announced Sunday.
His son Gary Dawson said the actor died of complications related to esophageal cancer at the Ronald Reagan Memorial Hospital at UCLA Saturday night. He was 79.
On the hit game show "Family Feud," Dawson shined in his role as the double-entendre-instigating, woman kissing host. At the height of its popularity in the early 1980s, fresh episodes of the program aired 11 times a week on the ABC network and on local stations in syndication.
Dawson had been a merchant seaman for several years before he tried his hand in standup comedy in London in the late 1950s. He crossed the pond to appear on early '60s comedy shows like "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Laugh In" and regularly appear on the Steve Allen and Johnny Carson versions of the "Tonight Show."
"Hogan's Heroes," an improbable comedy set in a German P.O.W. camp during World War II, proved to be Dawson's breakaway introduction to the three- network American TV audience in 1966. Dawson played Peter Newkirk, a London grifter whose slight of hand and Cockney-accented point of view provided counterpoint to the ensemble cast. The show was a runaway hit for six years on CBS.
"We ran six years ... a year longer than Hitler," Dawson quipped.
Dawson then moved his career into daytime game shows, such as "Match Game" and "Masquerade Party." He starred with Arnold Schwarzenegger and portrayed an evil game show host in the 1987 sci-fi film ''The Running Man.''
His last regular starring role was hosting a revived "Family Feud" from 1994 to 2000. Dawson's family said he was survived by his wife, Gretchen, whom he met when she was a "Feud" contestant in the 1970s.
He is also survived by sons Gary and Mark, his daughter Shannon, and four grandchildren. No services have been announced.