Chuck Barris, the creator of The Gong Show and other game show classics, died on March 21 at age 87. Publicist Paul Shefrin told CNN that the television personality, who also created The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, died of natural causes at his Palisades, New York home.
Barris, who was born in Philadelphia as Charles Hirsch Barris, was best-known for creating a series of beloved game shows that critics hated, but audiences loved. He was a true jack-of-all-trades in the entertainment industry, writing a series of best-selling books and even writing songs.
Barris was married three times and is survived by his wife Mary Clagett. They married in 2000. He also had a daughter, Della, with his first wife. Della died in 1998 at age 36.
Here’s what you need to know about Barris.
1. Barris’ Only Child, Daughter Della, Died of a Drug Overdose in 1998
Barris was married three times. His marriage to Lyn Levy lasted from 1957 to 1976, while his marriage to Robin Altman lasted from 1980 to 1999. In 2000, he married Mary Clagett and they remained together until his death.
Barris only had one child, Della, with his first wife. She died in 1998 at age 36 from a drug overdose.
In 2010, Barris wrote a book about Della, titled Della: A Memoir of My Daughter. In an excerpt published on Today.com, Barris said he regretted his decision to let her move out on her own and give her a trust fund when she was only 16. He wrote that his mother thought that her granddaughter committed suicide, but he didn’t think she wanted to kill herself.
I’m told by friends that Della was very depressed just before she died. Of course she was depressed. She was sick. She was broke. And she was burdened with a low-life lover who provided her with drugs that aided and abetted her depression. Della drank too much vodka, snorted too much cocaine, and died just like the death certificate said she did, from an excessive amount of everything. I don’t think Della wanted to die. I think she made a horrible mistake.
In a 2003 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Barris said that he had reached a low point in his life in 2000. Two years after his daughter’s death, he was in the middle of a divorce, was diagnosed with lung cancer and had a staph infection. But that year, he also married his third wife, Mary, and the two stayed together until his death in 2017.
2. Barris Wrote the Hit Song ‘Palisades Park’ for Freddy Cannon
Among Barris’ other interests outside television was songwriting. He also co-wrote some of the themes for his game shows. The biggest hit he had as a songwriter was “Palisades Park,” which was a No. 3 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for Freddy Cannon in June 1962. The song was inspired by an amusement park in New Jersey, which eventually closed in 1971.
The song remained popular enough that it was recorded by several artists. Jan & Dean, Shelley Babares, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, The Beach Boys and even The Ramones all recorded the song. In 1988, Bruce Springsteen performed the song on tour.
“Palisades Park” was also featured in the 2011 blockbuster X-Men: First Class.
Other songs Barris wrote include “Summertime Guy” for Eddie Rambeau (it was also the Newlywed Game theme) and “Love Sickness” for Milton DeLugg. He also released an album of his game show themes in 1973.
3. Barris Once Claimed He Was a CIA Assassin, but the CIA Denied That
In 2002’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Barris wrote that he was an assassin for the CIA during the 1960s and 1970s, even though he was busy creating and producing game shows at the time. The CIA denied it, but Barris stuck by his claim.
“It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely not true,” a CIA spokesman told Time Magazine in 2003, when George Clooney’s film version of the book came out. The movie starred Sam Rockwell as Barris and was written by Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation.).
Barris wrote in the book that one of his assignments at the CIA was to collect intelligence on Martin Luther King Jr. He told Time Magazine in 2003 that he wrote the book, in part, because he couldn’t believe people took the time to criticize him for his harmless entertainment.
“People forget the point of the book,” he told Time Magazine. “Here I was, getting crucified by critics for entertaining people and getting medals for killing them. That just didn’t seem logical.”
When Confessions was first released, it infamously sold poorly. In an interview with the AV Club in 2003, Barris explained that there were 100,000 copies published at first and critic hated it. Only 10,000 copies sold. He blamed critics for the book’s failure. When asked if he thought the book was ahead of its time, Barris said he wasn’t sue.
“I think if you’re ahead of your time, you’ve failed,” Barris told the AV Club. “I think if you’re behind the times, you’ve failed. I think the only way to measure success is being right on time with what people want. At one time, I had this reputation for having my finger on the pulse, of knowing what people wanted. I don’t believe that, either. I think you may be a product of your time.”
As for the film Confessions, it was the first movie Clooney directed and earned mostly positive reviews from critics. However, it only made $33 million worldwide.
4. Barris Admitted That He Was ‘Obnoxious’ on ‘The Gong Show’
In a 2003 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Barris lamented that he was only known as the creator of The Gong Show. He said he couldn’t watch old episodes of the series that made him a star.
“I. Was. So. Obnoxious,” he told the magazine. “If I died, I wouldn’t be surprised if an obituary says, ‘Gonged. He’s Gonged. He’s finally Gonged.’ But that’s not me. It’s not me.”
After The Gong Show Movie came out in 1980 and flopped, Barris sold his production company for $100 million and escaped to St. Tropez. He wanted to escape a world that came up with nicknames like “Baron of Bat Taste” and “Ayatollah of Trasherola” for him.
“I think that I was much too vulnerable,” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2003. ”I should not have let the criticism destroy me like it did. It’s ridiculous! It happens to everybody else and they shrug it off.”
Barris did try new ventures in the 1980s and 1990s, but he eventually decided to stick with books. He wrote a sequel to Confessions in 2004 called Bad Grass Never Dies. In 2010, he published his book about his daughter Della. In total, Barris wrote six books after the original Gong Show ended.
“I never knew what I wanted to be. I still don’t,” Barris told the AV Club in 2003. “I always admired and envied kids who did, who definitely wanted to be a doctor or who were going to go to West Point because their father was in the war, or if somebody wanted to fly, that that was something they definitely wanted to do. I thought that was great, because I didn’t have any big desires or great ambitions for anything. When I graduated college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
A 2001 Observer profile notes that Mary is 30 years younger than Barris and they have been dating for three and a half years before they married.
5. Barris’ First Game Show Hit Was ‘The Dating Game’
After working at American Bandstand and earning a hit with “Palisades Park,” Barris created his first game show in 1965. The Dating Fame, hosted by Jim Lange, had three bachelors or bachelorettes compete for a date, who couldn’t see what they looked like. The game show ran until 1980 and was revived in 1986.
In 1966, Barris launched The Newlywed Game. Although he created other shows, he didn’t really have another big hit until The Gong Show, which he saw as a parody of talent shows. The series began at NBC in 1976 and also ran in syndication from 1976 to 1980. The show was so popular that he even wrote and directed The Gong show Movie, which was a major flop. The show remains a cult hit through, and was revived three times, most recently in 2008.
In October 2016, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that ABC ordered a new version of The Gong Show that will be executive produced by Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett. Barris was not involved in the project.
The other shows Barris created include The Family Game, The Game Game, the New Treasure Hunt, The Parent Game, The Bobby Vinton Show and The $1.98 Beauty Show.
Celebrity Net Worth estimated that Barris had a net worth of $120 million at the time of his death.