Yesterday, I wrote some reflections on iconic author, Ray Bradbury. He isn't the only recently deceased public figure that I want to reflect upon. On June 2nd, Richard Dawson passed away.
I'm not going to pretend that Dawson played a significant role in my life or inspired me the way that Bradbury has done. Richard Dawson's significant contributions to pop culture were mainly all done before I was born. I knew he was the famous game show host on Family Feud, and I also knew he'd hosted several other popular '70s games shows. This was during a time that game shows reeled in a much larger audience and were held in a loftier position in pop culture than they are today. I actually wasn't aware that the man was more than a game show host, but actually did a fair bit of acting before his hosting days. He had a large role in Hogan's Heroes, which was a sitcom about fighting against Nazis -- and actually was popular for its time period. My only memories of this show are the jabs it occasionally takes in modern sitcoms, and that every time I read it in the TV guide as a kid, I thought it might be a new wrestling show.
Needless to say, I didn't know a whole lot about Richard Dawson before his passing. It was only the obits that I learned that he was far more well-rounded than I originally believed. The most significant thing I knew about him was that he got away with kissing a lot married woman on the lips right in front of their husbands and a national television audience. Though, it really isn't the worst thing to be remembered for doing.
I actually do have one really huge positive memory of Richard Dawson. It is his role as the evil game show host Damon Killian in the '80s action film, The Running Man. As I mentioned earlier, I never knew that Dawson was once a full time actor. I thoughts he landed the role because he was an iconic game show host (which probably is the main reason) rather than the fact he could act. I was always surprised by how well Dawson performed in that film. He stole the show. He created one of the vilest and evil characters in film. He was one of the toughest rivals for Arnold Schwarzenegger in all of '80s cinema. This is pretty impressive when you consider he was almost a senior citizen at that point, and Arnie's foes were typical muscle bound monsters. You really believed that this could be the villain that would finally put our '80s hero away, because he just seemed so powerful and unbeatable.
When I first saw the film, I hated the Dawson' character. Of course, that is exactly how I was supposed to feel. He was corrupt, slimy, hypocritical, and heartless. There was almost nothing admirable about him. But many years later, I really appreciate the performance by Dawson. It was easy to make that character just a caricature. Most films of the time just presented a stereotypical villain that was just meant to get squashed by the hero. Dawson brought so much more to the character. He made him believable. He brought a certain type of charisma to the role that caused him to be a character that you really thought was real. He reminded us of the lying politicians or the fake televangelists -- both figures that were pretty prominent in 1987. He represented something we were already seeing and despising. He did it with a flair that almost no actor has been able to bring to a similar role since.
I hated Damon Killian. I begged for him to get his comeuppance. It was Dawson who really was able to transform into a character that fueled that hate. Without Dawson's performance The Running Man is just another fun '80's Schwarzenegger flick. Dawson created a unique character, and propelled the film into one of the best and most fun action films of the decade.
I'm sure many people older than me will have other memories of Richard Dawson. I like my memory. He created a character that played a huge role in one of my beloved childhood films (though before you yell at my parents for allowing me to watch an R-Rated film, I did see it many years after it was released). For a film buff and a lover of great stories and characters, I think that is a mighty fine memory.
RIP Richard Dawson.