Chuck Barris, host of The Gong Show, died Tuesday, March 21, of natural causes in Palisades, New York. He was 87 and is survived by his wife, Mary.
Best known for hosting the 1970s NBC game show The Gong Show, he also created genre classics The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game.
The Gong Show, created and produced by Barris, aired on NBC in daytime from 1976 through 1978, and in first-run syndication from 1976 to 1980 and 1988 to 1989. Barris hosted the show on NBC and from 1977 to 1980 in syndication. It was known for its free-wheeling style, absurdist humor, and the titular gong used by the judges to cut short bad auditions. A similar element, a buzzer, is being used on America’s Got Talent.
Gene Gene the Dancing Machine was a “Gong Show” staple. An NBC stagehand whose backstage dancing caught Barris’ eye, Gene Patton was a recurring sensation, whose dancing to an arrangement of Count Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” never failed to bring the audience, judges and Barris joy.
The uncensored clip of The Gong Show w/ Jaye P. Morgan flashing Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.
Like Gene, the Unknown Comic (Murray Langston) made several appearances on “The Gong Show,” telling crummy jokes while wearing a paper bag over his head. The man under the mask (or bag) would find his set inevitably brought to an end by Barris throwing him off the stage.
A Gong Show revival was in the works at ABC late last year, to be produced by Will Arnett. ABC ordered 10 episodes last fall from Sony TV, which owns rights to the originals, with the new version expected to join the summer lineup.
Barris got his start in TV as a page and later staffer at NBC in New York, eventually working backstage at the TV music show American Bandstand as a standards-and-practices person for ABC. He was promoted to the daytime programming division at ABC in Los Angeles and put in charge of deciding which game shows the network would air. During his time there, he became a producer and on June 14, 1965 formed his production company Chuck Barris Productions.
Additional credits include Dream Girl of ’67, Operation: Entertainment, Treasure Hunt, Cop Out!, The All-New Dating Game and 3’s a Crowd, among others.
He called himself “The King of Daytime Television,” but to critics he was “The King of Schlock” and “The Baron of Bad Taste.” As The Gong Show and his other series were slipping, he sold his company for a reported $100 million in 1980 and decided to go into films. From there, he directed and starred in The Gong Show Movie, a thundering failure that stayed in theaters only a week.
In 1962, he wrote the pop song “Palisades Park,” which was a tribute to New Jersey’s amusement park. The song was recorded by Freddy Cannon, reaching No 3 in the Billboard charts, becoming Barris’ biggest hit song.
Barris also wrote his controversial, dubious autobiography Confessions of a Dangerous Mind in 1984, claiming that he’d been an assassin for the CIA as a sideline to his TV career. The book was adapted by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and became George Clooney’s film directorial debut in 2002. Sam Rockwell played Barris in the film.
In 2004, Barris released a sequel to his book, Bad Grass Never Dies. He also published Della: A Memoir of My Daughter in 2010, a novel about the death of his only child, who died in 1998 after a long struggle with drug addiction.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his name to the New York Police Foundation.