Chuck Barris, Gong Show Host, Dead at 87

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Chuck Barris on The Gong Show

He hosted one of the wackiest TV programs ever, The Gong Show, and created such staples of the broadcast world as The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. Chuck Barris died of natural causes at his home in Palisades, N.Y., on Tuesday (March 21). He was 87.

Barris also boasted a direct connection to rock ’n’ roll: he wrote the 1962 hit “Palisades Park,” which Freddy Cannon took to #3 on the Billboard chart.

Born June 3, 1929, in Philadelphia, Barris got his start in television when the medium was still young, working as a page for NBC in the early ’50s. Barris worked with Dick Clark on American Bandstand in a behind-the-scenes capacity before getting a gig in the daytime programming division at ABC-TV in Los Angeles.

IN 1965, he left ABC and formed his own Chuck Barris Productions, selling The Dating Game to the network he’d just left. The concept for the game show was simple: one bachelor (or bachelorette) would ask questions of three potential suitors—who were hidden from view—and then choose one as his or her date.

Many contestants went on to stardom but were unknown when they appeared on the show. They include Farrah Fawcett, Steve Martin and Phil Martin. In other instances, suitors vied to win a date with celebs such as Ron Howard, Barry Williams and Michael Jackson.

The series used a variety of songs performed by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass in various segments including “Spanish Flea” to introduce the bachelor and “Whipped Cream” to introduce the bachelorette.

The Newlywed Game naturally followed, premiering the following year. This time, members of newly married couples would reply to questions—often bordering on scandalous—about each other, often revealing details that were quite surprising. The show ran for 19 years before going into syndication. The questions asked by its host, Bob Eubanks, intentionally solicited provocative answers to “the most unusual place they ‘made whoopee.'” And he had fun when a contestant didn’t know the definition of a word.

But The Gong Show was another beast altogether. Launched in 1976, this program featured Barris as its host. Conceived as a parody of a talent show, it featured some genuinely gifted contestants but—more often—folks who should never have been allowed near a television camera, or perhaps not even out of the house. Barris joked his way through the show, creating a surreal atmosphere and although it only lasted for two years (with four more in syndication), it became a touchstone of oddball entertainment.

Watch an episode of The Gong Show from 1977

Barris’ luck as a producer began to run out in the ’80s as new shows failed and Barris openly invited scorn when he published his autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, in which he claimed, in all seriousness, that he’d worked as a CIA assassin at the height of his fame in the ’60s and ’70s. The story was made into a feature film in 2002, directed by George Clooney. The CIA denied that Barris had ever worked for the agency in any capacity, but the producer never recanted the story.

Listen to Freddy Cannon sing Barris’ “Palisades Park”…

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