Richard Dawson was the original and most iconic host of Family Feud, the popular game show that pits two families against each other in a battle of wits and trivia. But Dawson was not only known for his witty remarks and charming personality, he was also famous for his unconventional way of greeting female contestants: by kissing them.
Dawson kissed thousands of women during his 11-year run on Family Feud, from grandmothers to teenagers, from housewives to celebrities. He kissed them on the cheeks, on the hands and on the lips. He kissed them before, during, and after the game. He kissed them whether they won or lost. He kissed them regardless of their marital status, ethnicity, or consent.
But why did he do it? And how did he get away with it? The answers may surprise you.
The Origin of the Kiss
In a 2010 interview, Dawson claimed the kissing ritual started when a nervous contestant was unable to name a green vegetable, so he told her he was going to do something his mom did whenever he was having issues. He kissed the contestant on the cheek, she came up with “asparagus,” and her family won the game.
After this, Dawson claimed every female contestant expected to be kissed, and that his aim was to make them feel comfortable and relaxed on the show.
The Controversy of the Kiss
Not everyone was happy with Dawson’s kissing spree. ABC executives tried to put an end to it, claiming that the sponsors felt it was inappropriate and unprofessional. They also hinted that it had something to do with him kissing women of color. Dawson said, “It’s very important to me that on Family Feud I could kiss all people. I kissed black women daily and nightly on Family Feud for 11 years, and the world didn’t come to an end, did it?”
Dawson refused to stop kissing and decided to ask the viewers what they thought. He said, “I said, ‘I’m gonna get cards printed out that say: I’ve been watching it for a while now and I don’t think you should kiss anyone but me.’ And then another one: ‘It doesn’t bother me at all.’ And then another one: ‘I think you’re too blatant.’ Whatever they want to say.”
The results were overwhelming. Out of 14,600 votes, only 704 were against the kissing. The audience made it clear that they loved the kisses and wanted them to continue. Dawson said, “They were saying: ‘Hey man leave him alone; we like it; we’re having fun.'”
The Legacy of the Kiss
Dawson continued to host Family Feud until 1985, when he was replaced by Ray Combs. He returned briefly in 1994 for a revival season, but he toned down his kissing act by only kissing his wife Gretchen Johnson, whom he met as a contestant on the show in 1981.
Dawson passed away in 2012 at the age of 79 from complications of esophageal cancer. He left behind a legacy of entertainment and controversy that still sparks debate today. Some people see him as a charming and charismatic host who brought joy and humor to millions of viewers. Others see him as a sexist and creepy predator who violated women’s boundaries and dignity.
Whatever your opinion may be, there is no denying that Richard Dawson was the Kissing King of Family Feud, and that his kisses made television history.