Jim Lange, the first host of the popular game show “The Dating Game,” died Tuesday morning at his home in Mill Valley, Calif., after suffering a heart attack. He was 81.
Though Lange had a successful career in radio, he is best known for his television role on ABC’s “The Dating Game,” which debuted in 1965. He appeared on the show for more than a decade, charming audiences with his mellifluous voice and wide, easygoing grin and playing host to many celebrity guests. Michael Jackson, Steve Martin and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others, appeared as contestants.
Even a pre-“Charlie’s Angels” Farrah Fawcett appeared on the program, introduced as “an accomplished artist and sculptress” with a dream to open her own gallery.
The show’s format: A young man or woman questions three members of the opposite sex, hidden from view, to determine which one would be the best date. The questions were designed by the show’s writers to elicit sexy answers.
“I’ve never been out on a date before. What do two kids like us do on a date?” a teenage Michael Jackson asked one of his potential dates on a 1972 episode of the show.
“Well, we’d have fun,” the girl answered. “We’d go out to dinner, and then I’d go over to your house.”
Lange was born in St. Paul, Minn., where at 15 he discovered a passion for local radio after winning an audition at a local station.
“They wanted a boy and a girl,” he said in a 1992 interview with the Bay Area Radio Digest. “They wanted the boy to do sports and the girl to do the dances and stuff that was going on in the Twin Cities — very sexist — and play music once a week.”
He hosted that show for two years before attending the University of Minnesota and doing a three-year stint in the Marines, according to the Bay Area Radio Museum.
His big break on network TV came in 1962 when he was made an announcer and sidekick on “The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show.”
Later, after “The Dating Game” brought him national recognition, he also hosted the game shows “Hollywood Connection,” ”$100,000 Name That Tune” and “The New Newlywed Game.”
Lange also worked as a disc jockey for decades in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, and upon his retirement from broadcasting in 2005, he was the morning DJ for KABL-FM, which specializes in playing classics from the Big Band era to the 1970s.
“As much as he’s known for his television work, his real love was radio,” his wife Nancy said.
In addition to his wife, Lange is survived by a sister, five children, two stepchildren and four grandchildren.