Chuck Barris, creator of the popular classic game shows The Gong Show and The Newlywed Game, passed away on Monday, March 20, 2017. He was 87 years old.
He was born Charles Hirsch Barris in Philadelphia on June 3, 1929 to Nathaniel and Edith Barris. His father was a dentist and his mother was a homemaker. He attended Drexel Institute of Technology and graduated in 1953. After college, he went to work for NBC and then ABC, eventually he ended up working on American Bandstand. The show got him into the music industry, where he produced pop music and wrote the song Palisades Park, which was recorded by Freddy Cannon and spent two weeks at number 3 on the Billboard chart. ABC eventually moved him to Los Angeles to decide which game shows to air. Barris told his bosses that his own ideas were better than the ones being pitched to him and they suggested he quit and produce his ideas instead.
On June 14, 1965 he formed Chuck Barris Productions and created his first game show, The Dating Show. Unable to see each other, three men and three women competed verbally to win each other over. The show ran for eleven of the next fifteen years and has had two revivals, one in the ’80s and one in the ’90s.
The next year Barris created The Newlywed Game, which quizzed newly married couples on how well they knew each other. Both games included humor, with playful and saucy flirtations and banter between the contestants, and the host chiming in as well. The Newlywed Game was the most successful of all of Barris’ game shows, it ran 19 years including syndication.
Barris produced several more games over the next few years, but his next really big hit was a parody of talent shows called The Gong Show. A bit similar to today’s America’s Got Talent but with a lot more humor involved, amateur performers could bring in any talent they wanted, no matter how strange, silly, or obscure. After a short period of time, any one of the three celebrity judges could pick up a mallet and hit a massive gong, ending the act. Those who survived being gonged would be judged, and winner got a trophy and a cash prize. Each week one of the gonged acts would also be chosen to win the same amount of money, as well as a dirty tube sock.
Originally set to host The Gong Show was John Baurbor, but he didn’t understand the parody element of the show and thought of it as a straight talent show. At the last second, Barris stepped up to replace him and became the host of The Gong Show.
Aside from creating and occasionally hosting game shows, Barris continued to write music, including several game show themes. He also published six books. His autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was adapted to a movie in 2002, directed by George Clooney and starring Sam Rockwell as Barris. In the book, he claims to have been a CIA assassin, something the CIA denies.
Barris’s life had its share of tragedy. When he was 24 he went camping with his grandmother, who died in the night. Barris put her body in a sleeping bag and brought her to town. But while he was filing a report with the police his car was stolen, with his grandmother’s body still tied to the roof. He had only one child, Della, with first wife Lyn Levy. Della struggled with addiction and died of an overdose in 1998. And in the ’90s, Barris survived lung cancer.
Barris’ death appears to be from natural causes. He is survived by his wife Mary Clagett Kane and will be remembered for his clever and humorous contributions to the history of game shows.
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