'Family Feud' star Richard Dawson dies at 79

June 3, 2012 at 10:57 AM ET

Richard Dawson, the British actor and comedian best known for kissing every female contestant he could get his hands on in the television game show "Family Feud," has died his son said Sunday.

"It is with a very heavy heart that I inform you that my father passed away this evening from complications due to esophageal cancer. He was surrounded by his family. He was an amazing talent, a loving husband, a great dad, and a doting grandfather. He will be missed but always remembered," Gary Dawson said in a posting on Facebook.

Dawson hit fame playing a British prisoner of war, Corporal Newkirk, in the the 1960s comedy show "Hogan's Heroes," which made out his Nazi captors as benevolent bumblers. Despite its unlikely premise, the show made the ratings top 10 in its first season, 1965-66, and ran until 1971.

He later became a regular on game shows, titillating audiences with just-this-side-of-dirty innuendos on "Match Game" and then, most prominently, as host of "Family Feud," in which two families competed to see which one could more accurately predict Americans' answers to odd survey questions.

Dawson hosted "Family Feud" from 1976 to 1985 and again from 1988 to 1995. He won an Emmy award in 1978.

He was known for kissing each woman contestant, and at the time the show first bowed out in 1985, executive producer Howard Felsher estimated that Dawson had kissed "somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000."

"I kissed them for luck and love, that's all," Dawson said at the time.

Dawson, who lived in Beverly Hills, Calif., married one of the contestants he met on the show, Gretchen Johnson, in 1991. She survives him, as does their daughter, Shannon. He is also survived by two sons, Gary and Mark Dawson, from his previous marriage to Hollywood starlet Diana Dors.

According to the Internet Movie Database, Dawson was born Colin Lionel Emm in 1932 in Gosport, England.

Did you watch "The Feud"? What's your favorite Dawson memory? Tell us on Facebook.

Related content: