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Ray Combs 1956-1996

Country : Hamilton, OH
Profession : Game show host
Date of birth : 1956-04-03
Date of death : 1996-06-02
Cause of Death : Suicide

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Raymond Neil "Ray" Combs, Jr. (April 3, 1956 – June 2, 1996) was an American comedian and host of the game show Family Feud on CBS and in syndication from 1988 to 1994.


Early life and career

Combs was born in Hamilton, Ohio and ascended into the world of comedy after moving to Los Angeles in 1983. He began his career doing audience warm-ups for sitcoms. Johnny Carson noticed this and invited him to perform on The Tonight Show in October 1986; the audience gave him a standing ovation his first time on stage, the first time in the show's history a comedian was given such an honor on his or her first appearance. He was soon given warm-up duties for the audience of the sitcom Amen.

In 1987, he appeared as a celebrity panelist on the John Davidson version of Hollywood Squares, and had a small role (as a cop at Elk Cove Hospital) in the comedy film Overboard starring Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. His appearance on Hollywood Squares was memorable for him leading the audience in singing a terrible rendition of the theme to The Brady Bunch. Around this time he also had appeared as a guest star on an episode of The Golden Girls. His story was featured on The E! True Hollywood Story.

Combs was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called Mormons.

Host of Family Feud

In 1988, game show producers Mark Goodson and Howard Felsher selected Combs to host a new version of Family Feud, which aired concurrently on CBS beginning on July 4, 1988 and in syndication beginning on September 19, 1988. Audiences initially accepted Combs' performance on Family Feud despite the inevitable comparisons to longtime host Richard Dawson. According to Feud announcer Gene Wood, Combs would also tour extensively around the United States to promote the show, including guest appearances on CBS' Card Sharks starring Bob Eubanks and CBS' The Price Is Right starring Bob Barker.

Combs also made a couple of appearances for the World Wrestling Federation, appearing as a guest ring announcer at WrestleMania VIII, where he amused the capacity crowd at Indianapolis' Hoosier Dome by lashing into the team of the Nasty Boys, The Mountie, and Repo Man with various scathing insults before being ultimately chased out of the ring. He later served as a guest commentator alongside Vince McMahon and Bobby Heenan at Survivor Series 1993. These two appearances were also met with various WWF/WBF celebrity editions of Family Feud; Heenan and Combs also struck up a friendship, which Heenan recounted in his autobiography, noting that he believed Combs felt demeaned by being a game show host. Combs also portrayed himself in episodes of In Living Color and 227 during Family Feud sketches.

On June 29, 1992, CBS expanded the daytime show from thirty minutes to one hour. The Bullseye round was added and the show was rechristened as Family Feud Challenge. Two and a half months later, on September 14, 1992, the Bullseye round was integrated into the syndicated run. This edition, however, remained thirty minutes in length, but was rechristened as The New Family Feud.

Final year as host

By 1993, however, ratings for the show slipped after the death of creator Mark Goodson. CBS canceled the daytime version on September 10, 1993, although the show had been in reruns since March 29, 1993, and the syndicated version was also in danger of cancellation. Jonathan Goodson, who became chairman of Mark Goodson Productions after his father's death a year earlier, then made the decision to replace Combs with Richard Dawson.

During the taping of his final episode, which aired in first-run syndication on May 27, 1994, instead of mingling with the two competing families at the end of the show, Combs walked off the set. Prior to the conclusion of the show, Combs jokingly noted that his final contestant on the show would be the first (and thus far only) contestant to score zero points in Fast Money, and that was "a damn fine way to go out... I thought I was a loser till you walked up here; you made me feel like a man!"

Later life and decline

Combs was severely injured in a July 1994 car accident which nearly paralyzed him. He went through financial problems after the closing of CaddyCombs, his Cincinnati, Ohio, comedy club, over a dispute with his business partner.

He had also separated from Debbie, his wife of 18 years, with whom he had six children. Several attempts to make it back into television – most notably as the host of the cable TV game show Family Challenge – all failed. About a week prior to his suicide, he appeared on television for the last time, live on a Memorial Day edition of The Home and Family Show with Cristina Ferrare and Chuck Woolery on May 27, 1996, where he talked about his experiences while hosting Family Challenge.


Combs soon became disoriented. He frantically made phone calls from his apartment to his wife where he was sobbing and hysterical. His wife Debbie quickly called 911, and paramedics responded soon thereafter. After he was treated and released, as Debbie was driving him home, Combs leapt from the car at a red light and disappeared behind some houses.

A few hours later, he was seen in front of his wife's house. Debbie sent one of his children to lock the door, and when he wouldn't open up, Combs became hysterical. He hit his head against the wall of the house and Debbie called the police. When they arrived, Combs claimed he had slipped in the Jacuzzi.

Combs was eventually admitted to the psychiatric ward of Glendale Adventist Medical Center and placed on a 72-hour mental observation hold. At about 4:10 in the morning, Pacific Standard Time, on Sunday, June 2, 1996, he committed suicide by removing the sheets from his bed and using them to hang himself in the closet of his hospital room. His family relied upon a $25,000 donation from Johnny Carson to pay for funeral expenses. Combs is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton, Ohio.

Alsace Avenue in Hamilton, Ohio, was renamed "Ray Combs Blvd" in his memory.

Family Feud

Vampire in Brooklyn (23-Jan-1995)
Overboard (16-Dec-1987)

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