"We ran six years," Dawson once quipped, "a year longer than Hitler."
Dawson was born Colin Lionel Emm in 1932 in Gosport, England. When he was 14 he joined the Merchant Marines, serving three years.
He first got into show business as a standup comedian, playing clubs in London's West End including the legendary Stork Room. It was there, in the late 1950s, he met blond bombshell Diana Dors, the film star who became known as Britain's answer to Marilyn Monroe. They married in 1959 and divorced a decade later.
Dawson landed roles in U.S. comedy and variety shows in the early 1960s, including "The Steve Allen Show" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Then his performance as a military prisoner in the 1965 film "King Rat" led to his being cast in "Hogan's Heroes," which truly made him a star to American audiences.
After that, he was a regular on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" and "The New Dick Van Dyke Show."
Meanwhile, he became a frequent celebrity contestant on game shows, including both daytime and prime-time versions of "The Match Game."
While still a panelist on "The Match Game," he began on "Family Feud," where his popularity grew to such levels that he was mentioned as a front-runner to win the "Tonight Show" host chair as successor to Johnny Carson, who at the time was considering retirement. Though Carson stayed put, Dawson logged appearances as a guest host.
In 1985, on Dawson ended that lengthy "Family Feud" run, the studio audience honored him with a standing ovation, and he responded: "Please sit down. I have to do at least 30 minutes of fun and laughter, and you make me want to cry."
"I've had the most incredible luck in my career," he told his viewers, adding, "I never dreamed I would have a job in which so many people could touch me and I could touch them." That triggered a laugh, as he must have known it would: a host who was both a lover and a jokester.
Associated Press writer Hillel Italie contributed to this report.
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