Richard Dawson died today, and a special sense of style and good humor from a small corner of the 1970s and 1980s dies with him.
As a child growing up in the late 1970s, I idolized baseball players and rock stars. I thought firemen and policemen and women were very cool (still do), and I looked at awe at business moguls (both real and fictional) and presidents.
But the one guy who I thought had the probably the best daily existence was one Richard Dawson. I was first saw Dawson on the Match Game, but then I felt I was “introduced” to him while he hosted the smash hit Family Feud.
Family Feud was unique. The object of the game was not to be smarter than the average person. The reward lay in the ability to think just like the average person does. Contestants won money based on their ability to guess the most popular (not the most correct) answers to survey questions on common subjects.
“Name something you do with kids on a rainy day.” If you said “watched TV,” you’d very likely score more points than if you said, “teach them Shakespeare”.
It was about true self reflection of the common and honest man or woman. Those that felt pressure to answer or had to think to hard about it would face an uphill battle against the average American family.
Unlike so much else in society, the average family held all the cards on Family Feud. It, for once, had the wind at its back and an uneven playing field titled in its favor.
While the format itself would likely have been popular enough to survive with a journeyman game show host, Richard Dawson took it to a level of popularity and, even, importance well beyond the game.
See, Richard Dawson usually was the smartest guy in the room, or so it seemed. He struggled early in life, though, and perhaps as a result never seemed took his success or himself so seriously that he was blinded to the specialness and beauty inherent to the common folks who excelled on his show.
Now, he didn’t condescend. In fact, he had no problem laughing and poking fun at silly answers or bad performances (see the “Alligator” episode and try not to laugh out loud). No, the common guests on Richard Dawson’s set were not going to be handed anything. He was going to poke fun at the, but in a way that conveyed his belief that they were plenty strong enough to handle it. There was a sweet respectfulness under his brash and at times sarcastic veneer, and it came through despite, or because of(?), his British accent.
Often, we could see Dawson seemingly savagely dismiss a bad answer before cracking up in laughter and throwing his arm on the shoulder of the flustered contestant. He was either on heck of an actor (for which there was no evidence of that), or he really loved people and loved getting them out of sorts.
You could tell Dawson rooted hard for the families…but that even if they lost in the Final Money round, they would be fine…it was nothing but upside after all; Family Feud was found money for all. Including Richard Dawson.