Chuck Barris, the mastermind behind game show classics The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show, has died. Barris passed away of natural causes at his Palisades, New York home at age 87, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
While critics slammed his off-the-wall style, Chuck Barris was the godfather of TV talent competition hosts, even if he never wanted to take credit.
The Gong Show, which aired on NBC from 1976-80, featured amateurs taking to the stage to demonstrate their “talent” in front of a rotating roster of celebrity judges that included Rex Reed, Rip Taylor, Jaye P. Morgan, and even a then-unknown David Letterman. Recurring acts included Gene, Gene the Dancing Machine and the Unknown Comic. The bad acts (and there were a lot of them) were booted when one of the judges would strike a large gong. In 1978, Barris created the wacky follow-up, The $1.98 Beauty Show.
Barris later told the Archive of American Television that The Gong Show ended because he had a mental breakdown.
“The end of the show came because of me,” Chuck said in 2010.
“I had a small nervous breakdown out there, doing strange things. When I see films of the last shows, I was walking around, busting up [studio] flats on the air. That was the behavior of a host who was bored to death.”
Before he hit it big, Barris, a Philadelphia native, did several odd jobs, including working as a TelePrompter salesman. And Chuck was once on ABC’s payroll for the sole purpose of shadowing Dick Clark, who was the host of the teen show American Bandstand at the time. Barris’s job was to make sure the squeaky clean TV host was keeping his nose clean during the payola scandal era. Chuck went on to create The Dating Game in 1965 and The Newlywed Game one year later.
Before he became a game show magnate, Chuck Barris wrote the 1962 Freddy Cannon hit “Palisades Park.” Chuck later penned the book Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: An Unauthorized Biography, in which he claimed that he was an assassin for the CIA in the 1960s and ’70s. The CIA denied that Barris ever worked as a hitman, but George Clooney directed the movie version of the story in 2002.
In a 2003 interview with the AV Club, Chuck Barris downplayed his role in TV game show history.
“I think The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game began the momentum for what eventually became Fear Factor, The Jerry Springer Show, Joe Millionaire, and so on,” Chuck said. ” But if I wasn’t there, somebody else would have been.”
Barris also admitted he fell into the entertainment industry by default.
“When I graduated college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Chuck said.
“There was plastics and television, and I figured television had to be more fun than plastics. So I went out and started on my way up in television…I had all sorts of proclivities, but I never had any big success. My television programs never got an Emmy. ‘Palisades Park,’ which I wrote, never got to #1. It got to #2. A book got to #7 on the bestseller list, but never to #1. I was always kind of a second-level jack-of-all-trades, and unfortunately not a master of any of them.”
Chuck Barris fans would beg to differ. After the game show great’s death was announced, fans took to social media to pay tribute to the man who paved the way for today’s reality TV landscape.
Chuck Barris’ only child, Delia, died at age 36 in 1998. Chuck wrote the book Della: A Memoir of My Daughter, in 2010. Barris is survived by his wife, Mary Clagett.
Take a look at the video below to see Chuck Barris in action on The Gong Show.
[Featured Image by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images]