Chuck Barris, the entertainment figure who created the notorious Gong Show spoof television talent contest, as well as the long-running The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game game shows, died of natural causes at his home in Palisades, New York, on 21 March 2017. He was 87.
Barris also wrote the song “Palisades Park,” which became a Top 10 hit for singer Freddy Cannon in 1962. Barris’ first autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, was adapted into a 2002 feature film directed by George Clooney and starring Sam Rockwell as Barris.
Born Charles Hirsch Barris in 1929, Barris took an early job in television tailing American Bandstand host Dick Clark to document whether Clark was taking money in exchange for promoting records on his show, a practice commonly known as “payola”. Barris’ notes were ultimately presented to a House subcommittee, while Clark was absolved of any accusations against him.
A Philadelphia native, Barris was living off of his royalties for “Palisades Park” when he created The Dating Game in 1965 and sold it to ABC Television. After debuting that December, the program aired on ABC through 1973 and survived in various syndicated television runs until 1999.
In 1966, Barris created The Newlywed Game, which originally aired for 19 years and currently runs on the Game Show Network. Eleven years later, Barris stepped in front of the camera to host The Gong Show, a talent show spoof that featured in-house characters such as the “Unknown Comic” and “Gene Gene the Dancing Machine” alongside other contestants. The Gong Show aired for two years on NBC and continued in syndication through 1982.
As a promotional gimmick, Barris claimed Confessions of a Dangerous Mind that his game show work served as a cover for his real job as an assassin for the Central Intelligence Agency. An agency spokesperson, Tom Crispell, told the Associated Press in response that:
It sounds like he has been standing too close to the gong all those years. Chuck Barris has never been employed by the CIA and the allegation that he was a hired assassin is absurd.
Barris recalled Crispell’s comment (while overstating his position) when asked by the Archive of American Television in 2010 whether he really did work for the CIA, saying:
I don’t answer that question, ever. I can just tell you that the No. 2 guy in the CIA said that I must have been standing too close to the gong when I said things like that.
Barris is survived by his third wife, Mary.