Publicity photo (1988)
Raymond Neil Combs Jr.
April 3, 1956
Hamilton, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||June 2, 1996 (aged 40)|
Glendale, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Suicide by hanging|
|Body discovered||Glendale Adventist Medical Center|
|Resting place||Greenwood Cemetery|
|Education||Garfield High School|
|Occupation||Stand-up comedian, game show host|
|Known for||Hosting Family Feud (1988-1994)|
|Debbie Combs (1977-1996)|
Combs began his professional career in the late 1970s. His popularity on the stand-up circuit led to him being signed as the host of the revival of the game show Family Feud. The show aired on CBS from 1988-1993 and was in syndication from 1988-1994. From 1995 to 1996, Combs hosted another game show, Family Challenge.
Combs began performing comedy at Cincinnati's Red Dog Saloon, where he developed his best-known shtick of audience sing-alongs of sitcom theme songs. In 1979, Combs sent a letter to David Letterman, asking for advice; Letterman encouraged him to continue in comedy. In 1982, convinced that he was better than others he saw appear on The Tonight Show, Combs left his job as an Indianapolis furniture salesman, and moved with his family to Los Angeles. He did well in a competition with more than 200 other young comedians, and began doing audience warm-ups for sitcoms such as The Golden Girls and Amen. He became so popular, that other sitcoms changed their production schedules just so they could have him warm up their audiences.Johnny Carson heard the audience's laughter and then invited Combs to perform on The Tonight Show in October 1986; the audience gave him a standing ovation.
In 1985, he appeared on an episode of The Facts of Life as a background character. Around this time, he also guest starred on an episode of The Golden Girls. In 1987, he appeared as a celebrity panelist on the John Davidson version of Hollywood Squares, and had a small role in the comedy film Overboard starring Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn.
In 1988, game show producers Mark Goodson and Howard Felsher gave Combs a seven-year contract to host a new version of Family Feud. The program premiered on July 4, 1988 on CBS's daytime lineup, and a syndicated version was launched two months later, on September 19. According to Feud announcer Gene Wood, Combs also toured extensively around the United States to promote the show, and made guest appearances on Card Sharks as well as The Price Is Right to discuss the new version of Family Feud.
On June 29, 1992, CBS expanded the daytime show from 30 minutes to one hour. A new "Bullseye" round was added and the show was re-titled Family Feud Challenge. On September 14, 1992, the Bullseye round was integrated into the syndicated run, which remained 30 minutes in length but was renamed as The New Family Feud. Combs was one of the most seen MCs on television during the 1992-93 season, with an hour and a half of Family Feud airing five days a week.
Midway through the 1992-93 season, ratings for the show began to plummet. CBS canceled the daytime version in early 1993, with the final new episode airing March 26 (reruns aired through September 10), as many CBS affiliates had dropped the show entirely by that time. The syndicated version was also on the verge of cancellation (as many stations had also dropped that or moved it into overnight time slots). Jonathan Goodson, who had become chairman of Mark Goodson Productions after the death of his father, Mark Goodson, decided to replace Combs with original host Richard Dawson in the hopes of spiking ratings. By all accounts, Combs was hurt by his dismissal from the show.
His final episode of Family Feud was taped sometime in February 1994, and aired in first-run syndication on May 27 of that year. While that episode seemed like any other, during his final "Fast Money" bonus round, the five answers given by the second contestant each netted zero points. Combs joked, "You know, I've done this show for six years and this [is] the first time I had a person that actually got no points and I think it's a damn fine way to go out. Thought I was a loser until you walked up here, you made me feel like a man!" After signing off, with ending credits rolling, Combs immediately walked off the set, went to his dressing room to get changed, left the CBS Television City facility without saying good-bye to anyone, got into his car, and drove home.
Combs also made an appearance for the World Wrestling Federation 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 in a match between the Hart Family against Shawn Michaels and his Knights.
In addition to these two appearances, there were 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 portrayed himself in episodes of In Living Color and 227 in Family Feud sketches and made an appearance on the TNN television series The Statler Brothers Show, where he did a stand-up comedy routine. In October 1993, a Family Feud video game featuring Combs's likeness was released for the Super NES.
Combs was born in Hamilton, Ohio on April 3, 1956. He graduated in 1974 from Garfield High School, where he was an actor, senior class president, and Boys State delegate. He declined a nomination to the United States Military Academy and served as a Mormon missionary for two years in Arizona.
In July 1994, Combs suffered an injury in one of his spinal discs in a car accident, which left him in severe and continuous pain. He also went through financial problems after two of his comedy clubs failed, and his home in Hamilton, Ohio, went into foreclosure. In September 1995, Combs and Debbie, his wife of 18 years (with whom he had six children), separated. The couple reconciled, but later refiled for divorce.
Combs made several attempts to resurrect his television career, including taping a pilot for a talk show called The Ray Combs Show, which ultimately was not picked up. He hosted Family Challenge from 1995-96 on The Family Channel, and made a number of appearances on the Game Show Network.
On June 1, 1996, police were called to Combs' home at 1318 Sonora Avenue in Glendale, California over reports of a disturbance. Combs had reportedly destroyed most of the inside of his house, and had also been banging his head against the walls. Shortly after police arrived, Combs's estranged wife Debbie arrived and informed them that Combs was suicidal, and had spent the previous week in the hospital for a suicide attempt. He was taken by police to Glendale Adventist Medical Center where he was assessed by a medical doctor and placed on a 72-hour psychiatric observation hold. Early the next morning, on June 2, 1996, Combs died as he hanged himself in a closet with a noose made out of bed sheets.
On June 7, 1996, Combs' funeral was held at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Glendale. His casketed body was flown back to his hometown of Hamilton, Ohio, where he was interred at the Greenwood Cemetery. Combs was survived by his parents, Ray, Sr. and Anita Jean Combs; his wife; and their six children.
Combs was deep in debt at the time of his death; only after his suicide did his widow, Debbie, learn of his desperate financial difficulties. At the height of his career, he earned close to $1 million per year, but reportedly had trouble managing his money. In addition to his two failed comedy clubs in Hamilton, Combs owed $100,000 in back taxes and $150,000 in loans and credit cards, plus he had a $470,000 mortgage. The bank foreclosed on the family's Glendale home, and Debbie was forced to sell off some of her husband's autographed photos and celebrity caricatures. A benefit held at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood netted $10,000 for the family. Johnny Carson, who had given Combs his first break in show business, sent Debbie a check for $25,000, writing to her: "I hope this will ease the burden".
|1985||The Facts of Life||Technician||Episode: "Doo-Wah"|
|1986||You Again?||Various roles||3 episodes|
|1987||The Golden Girls||Bob Henderson||Episode: "And Then There Was One"|
|1987||Overboard||Cop at Hospital|
|1988||Amen||Harold Buckner||2 episodes|
|1988||227||Himself||Episode: "And the Survey Says..."|
|1992||The Larry Sanders Show||Himself||Episode: "Hey Now"|
|1993||In Living Color||Himself||Episode: "Forever Silky"|
|1995||Vampire in Brooklyn||Game show host||Alternative title: Wes Craven's Vampire in Brooklyn|