Chuck Barris, ‘Gong Show’ Host, Dies at 87

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Chuck Barris, who hosted “The Gong Show” and created “The Dating Game” and “The Newlywed Game,” died Tuesday of natural causes in Palisades, N.Y., his publicist confirmed. He was 87.

His autobiography, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” was made into a film directed by George Clooney and starred Sam Rockwell as Barris. In the book (subtitled “An Unauthorized Autobiography”), he claimed to have worked for the CIA as an assassin during the 1960s and ’70s, a claim which the CIA denied. “He also fabricated his life because it might have been the best way of getting at the truth. The truth was that back when he was the Jerry Springer of his day, he couldn’t stomach being attacked for doing something he considered harmless,” wrote Joel Stein in Time magazine.

The multi-talented game show creator was also a songwriter, writing songs such as “Palisades Park” as well as music for his game shows.

Born Charles Hirsch Barris in Philadelphia, he started out working as a page at NBC in New York, then worked backstage at “American Bandstand.” “Palisades Park” was recorded by Freddy Cannon and hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

He formed Chuck Barris Productions in 1965 and created “The Dating Game,” hosted by Jim Lange, which introduced swinging 1960s double entendres to the formerly staid game show genre and ran for 11 out of the next 15 years. In 1966 he launched “The Newlywed Game,” hosted by Bob Eubanks, which ran for 19 years; Game Show Network still airs a version of the show.

Over his long career, Barris wore many hits, from pop singer to author to film producer. He also produced the original 1966 off-Broadway staging of the musical “Dames at Sea,” which starred Bernadette Peters.

Barris worked as a programming executive at ABC for about a year before launching the Chuck Barris Productions banner in 1965 with a $20,000 loan from his stepfather. Three years later, the company was delivering 22 half-hours of programming to networks per week. It went public in 1968.

Barris finally made it in front of the camera when he began hosting “The Gong Show” in 1976. Though it only ran two years on NBC and four years in syndication, the show is still remembered for its wacky spoof of the talent show format. He introduced the amateur contestants dressed in colorful clothing with odd props, with judges Jamie Farr, Jaye P. Morgan and Arte Johnson adding to the goofy atmosphere. Other offbeat characters on the show included “Gene Gene the Dancing Machine” and Murray Langston, the “Unknown Comic,” who wore a paper bag over his head.

The show was so popular it spawned a feature film, “The Gong Show Movie,” which failed to catch on the way the TV show had.

Among the other shows he created or produced were a revival of “Your Hit Parade,” “Three’s a Crowd,” which faced criticism as it seemed to promote adultery; “Camouflage,” and “Treasure Hunt.”

In the 1980s after a period living in France, he formed Barris Industries and revived “The Dating Game” and “The Newlywed Game” before selling his shares in the company to Burt Sugarman. Barris Industries acquired Guber-Peters Productions, which was then acquired by Sony Corporation.

Barris’ books include the novels “You and Me, Babe” (1974) and “The Big Question” (2007). In 2010 he published “Della: A Memoir of My Daughter,” recalling his only child, who died of a drug overdose at age 36.

Barris is survived by his wife, Mary.

Donations may be made to the New York Police Foundation.

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.

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  1. boltuprite says:

    I hope they establish a real cause of death, because in light of Barris’ service to the CIA, what are the odds that “Chuck Berry” and “Chuck Barris” die in successive days? What if someone clipped “Chuck Berry” by accident?

  2. Joe Sosa says:

    We dont need the gong show today. We have the Donald Trump Show-funny in a sad way!

  3. I made sure I was available when the Gong show was on because it was there to show us that there was no need to hate all the time and we could just be silly and forget the trials and just act silly to let off steam. I surely miss Chuck Barris as well as the Gong Show. Why not today? There’s no need to make a fool of the president but the snowflakes are a treasure trove of humor. Bring it back!

    • Pipen Cap says:

      After 8 years of The Newlywed Game it is refreshing to have a grown up who never learned how to do anything running our country instead or ruining it.

  4. G says:

    The final gong for Chuck. RIP

  5. I loved Chuck. Johnny be good, the duck walk, all that stuff.

  6. Tony Bones says:

    There was no better show ever on TV than the Gong Show. The Gong Show was TV the way God intended it to be.

  7. gabe says:

    drew careys gonna be so sad

  8. Buck says:

    Best show ever!! He always looked like he was having a great time on the show.

  9. Chuckie, Chuckie, Chuckie. He was a genius.

  10. I remember the episode during which Chuck decided to unmask the Unknown Comic by pulling the bag off the latter’s head. UC had a smaller bag on his head underneath the bag that was pulled off.

  11. TXGunner1 says:

    There are copies of his shows all over the networks in Prime Time now:

    America’s Got Talent = The Gong Show with a buzzer instead of a gong.
    The Bachelor = Dating Game, except it is funny.

  12. Chuck Berry, Chuck Barris, next in line Chuck E. Cheese…

  13. Tony Paone says:

    Chuck is up there with another Philly favorite – Soupy Sales…..

  14. David Gurney says:

    Just last night I was listening to Palisades Park.

  15. Hedge says:

    87 is a pretty good run at it Chuck…RIP now.

  16. Andylit says:

    BTW, folks, hate to pop your bubble.

    Chuck admitted in national television talk show that he did not ever work for the CIA. He applied but took a Hollywood job before he ever got a response. And no, he wasn’t lying to cover up his role as an assassin. He was just having fun with the fans.

  17. Machismo says:

    Chuck Barris – Gong! your gone!

  18. Andylit says:

    The Gong Show was the pinnacle of broadcast television. It has no equal.

  19. Robert Allen says:

    The Original American Idol .. and better, if you ask me.

  20. Joe says:

    RIP Chuck, loved by many!

  21. Jason says:

    A man way ahead of his time and misunderstood by most. RIP Chuck !

    • doug hogan says:

      I was a repeat contestant on the Gong show, auditioned on a dare from friends, best and worst call was when they told me I made the show ! Chuck Barris and the whole Gong show staff were awesome to deal with….Thanks for the 15 minutes of absolute fun Chuck ! God Bless

  22. Butt Head says:

    Somewhere, he’s faking a clap, and pointing at an audience full of people who bought it and clapped!

  23. Jimmy Wong says:

    Gene Gene the Dancing Machine! So much more talented than ANY of those lame a** “Dancing With the so called Celebrity shows.

  24. super shuga says:

    Interesting that this account of Mr. Barris’s life doesn’t even mention his book “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” and the subsequent movie. Barris called it an autobiography and claimed to have carried out CIA assassination jobs while hosting “The Gong Show.”

    • rootvg says:

      My dad worked for a very senior manager who looked JUST LIKE GENE.

    • super shuga says:

      my bad… see it now… wonky tablet :-(

      What sux more… Putting the reply button above the posts or Kindle?

      • Don’t feel bad. They put it first to get it out of the way. Anyone who works for the CIA and makes it public will get the same response. CIA denies all. That’s how they work, lying and denying.

  25. Tom A. says:

    This really saddens me. He was such a fun part of our history. RIP and best wishes to his wife and friends.

  26. Occultology says:

    Congratulations, Chuck Barris; you created several iconic television masterpieces, which to this day are treasured by billions of people around the world, and you are, without doubt, the world’s most popular mass murderer (33 kills for the CIA, according to the man himself).

  27. Ralph Gizzip says:

    Don’t ask for whom the Gong tolls. It tolls for thee.

    • rootvg says:

      The jury’s still out on that. A spokesman for the CIA when asked about Chuck’s having been a one time operative said Mr Barris had been standing too close to his gong for too many years.

  28. Pugsleee says:

    Chuck never minded being the butt of the joke: like when the Unknown Comic would zing him or the
    singing chef guy would get poed and dump the contents of his blender on Chucks head when Chuck
    told him they were out of time.
    Chuck also wrote a novel that was a bestseller in the early 70s (forgot the title). Other panelists in-
    clouded Anson (Potsie) Williams, who was great, and the not yet famous David Letterman.

  29. Dan says:

    Anyone living in the ’70s lived for the Gong Show. College came to a standstill because all the students were in the TV lounges absorbing every minute of the show. Gene Gene’s dance moves became mine!

  30. gterr says:

    Bye, Chuck. We’ll miss ya.

  31. racingphan says:

    I wish the Gong Show was still on one of the oldies tv networks. I’d watch it every night! Remember the two girls eating Popsicles?

    • vlad the impaler says:

      it was called “Have you Got a Nickel”. Classic was Jay P’s comment after gonging the gals… “Reminds me of how I got my start!”

  32. ES says:

    this guy was awesome; we all watched his show, two years out of high school back then. God Bless your soul Chuck, thanks for the great ride.

  33. Johnn Galt says:

    Supporting the cops. Very classy and apropos. Good man. Wacko. RIP

  34. Thomas Edwards says:

    Loved The Gong Show. Gene, Gene the Dancing Machine, the Unknown Comic all made for light hearted fun.

    “The truth was that back when he was the Jerry Springer of his day, he couldn’t stomach being attacked for doing something he considered harmless,” wrote Joel Stein in Time magazine.”

    It’s a good thing he didn’t arrive on the scene in this era. Political correctness would have driven him to become a hermit.

    RIP Chuck. You made a lot of people laugh.

  35. Robert Burke says:

    rest in peace chuck.you made some hard times in my young days into happy moments.even my 47 year old daughter misses you.RIP.

  36. TexBill says:

    He was an innovator. The programs he did weren’t cookie cutters of other shows on at the time. I didn’t know he also had talents in songwriting including the classic “Palisades Park,” sung by Freddy Boom-Boom Canon (who’s still performing.)

    Chuck Barris brought a lot of laughs to America. We needed them during LBJ’s war.

  37. Art Ist says:

    The Gong show is still the best game show ever!

  38. Remember this Wild and very Funny show well…….J.P. Morgan was a Great Singer and a sexy gal…..

  39. Alan Noel says:

    Just how I remembered it…..Unwatchable garbage hosted by an idiot…..My only question is who would be stupid enough to put this on tv.

  40. neededagoodlaugh says:

    Grew up with that show, so much fun and hilarious.

  41. Scales7 says:

    Look how much fun everyone was having!!! I wish we could go back to the silly and fun variety and game shows of the day!!! RIP Chuck.

  42. Not one hint of social justice, race, sex, politics, just entertainment. He will be missed

  43. LauraLeeHobbs says:

    Loved the “Gong Show”…..Barris was zany and being a CIA agent didn’t hurt either……RIP

  44. Regina Pellegrino says:

    He was a man ahead of his time. And like most men and women ahead of their times, they are at times ridiculed, poked fun of and made small for their many true accomplishments. And if not for that, they could have done much more. But why bother when you are being made a joke of, and your great successes pushed aside…

    Not to bring politics into it, but it does sound a little like what President Trump is receiving right now. Sometimes we only recognise it posthumously.

    My sympathies to the Barris family.

  45. ragu4u says:

    What was the best act ever on “The Gong Show”? My vote goes to….”Have you got a nickle?”!

  46. ragu4u says:

    He was 87? I should have his energy at 87!

  47. SCPistolero says:

    I was a big Chuck Barris fan and I still love the Gong Show. Whenever a contestant doing country music was on stage, he would put on a cowboy hat usually over his eyes (among all the other hats he wore) and play the guitar. Thanks for all the great “stuff.” RIP Chuck Barris.

  48. Barry Hall says:

    Sad to hear this. I love Chuck and we never missed the Gong Show.

  49. I liked this guy- maybe because his sense of humor was like my own (weird, off the wall), he was funny, fun and creative.
    Loved his shirt “Back with more stuff”, and his comment about liking something, but then he liked slime, sludge and falling off subway platforms” (or words to that effect)
    The guy was cool, the Gong Show was zany. Too bad we’ve moved away from such goofy, zany, strange fun that anyone could watch. He didn’t need to be vulgar or racy to be funny. I’d have been fine with kids watching it, but many would have never understood some of the spoofs and humor. A few more like him are needed, IMO.

  50. Jeff Smith says:

    They’ll never be another like Chuck Barris. Just looking at him on the Gong show made me laugh….another American original for the ages. God Bless his memory and his family.

    R.I.P. Chuck Barris

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