Ray Combs, Former Host of ‘Family Feud,’ Dead of Suicide
Ray Combs, the 40-year-old former host of TV’s “The New Family Feud” game show, committed suicide, dying Sunday at Glendale Adventist Hospital a day after he had been admitted for an unrelated head injury, authorities said.
Neither hospital officials nor Glendale police, who are investigating along with the county coroner’s office, would say how the TV game show host killed himself.
Glendale Police Lt. Stephen Campbell said only that Combs died of “respiratory failure unrelated to his head trauma.” Hospital spokeswoman Alicia Gonzalez could not comment on reports that Combs hanged himself in his hospital room.
She too attributed his death to respiratory failure unrelated to the head injury. He had been admitted Saturday afternoon with the blunt force trauma injury, said Gonzalez.
The Journal News in Hamilton, Ohio, Combs’ hometown, reported that Combs had fallen in his Jacuzzi on Saturday and struck his head.
Combs had suffered several personal and professional setbacks in recent years, including being replaced by his predecessor, Richard Dawson, in 1994 after six years on the TV show. Later in 1994 he suffered a swollen spinal disk and temporary paralysis after a speeding car sideswiped his vehicle on the Ventura Freeway and a second car rear-ended it.
His next TV venture, “The Love Psychic,” which he said would “offer the psychic truth about contestants and their responses,” was short-lived.
Combs, an Ohio native, operated two comedy clubs in Cincinnati. He abandoned the first in 1990 after a court dispute with a partner. He opened the second in 1991 and closed it in 1995 to concentrate on a television career.
Combs, who as a young man served as a Mormon missionary for two years in Arizona, had six children. A cover story on him in a church publication heralded him as “TV’s first LDS [Latter-day Saints] game show host.”
He is also survived by his parents, Ray Combs Sr. and AnitaJean, and his wife, Debbie.
Family Feudis one of the few game shows that come close to beating giants of the genre like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. The show’s allure comes from its family-centric nature involving families of five competing against one another for the grand prize of $20,000.
Since its debut, Family Feud has had its fair share of hosts, some more loved than others. One former host, however, met a tragic death. Here is the life and death of former Family Feudhost Ray Combs.
Ray Combs was known for his sing-alongs
Combs’ career started at Cincinnati’s Red Dog Saloon, where he perfected his art of sing-alongs of popular sitcom theme songs. In 1982, Combs left his job as a furniture salesman and moved to Los Angeles to compete against 200 people.
He started doing warm-ups for hit shows like Amen and TheGoldenGirls. Soon his shtick became so popular that various shows changed their schedules so that Combs could appear and warm up the audiences. In 1986, talk show host Johnny Carson heard the audience’s laughter and invited Combs to perform on the Tonight Show.
In 1985, he landed his first acting job on The Facts of Life in a background role. He also guest-starred in The Golden Girls and appeared in Hollywood Squares as a celebrity panelist in 1987. In 1989, Combs’ star rose even further when he was offered a seven-year contract for a rebooted version of Family Feud.
The show debuted on July 4, 1988, and Combs toured extensively to promote the new version of the beloved talk show. In 1992, CBS expanded Family Feud from a 30-minute running time to an hour and added several segments, including the ‘Bullseye’ round.
Ratings decline saw the downfall of the show and Combs
Although things seemed to be on an upward trajectory for Combs, ratings for Family Feud started plummeting midway through the show’s 1992-1993 season. The ratings decline forced CBS to cancel the daytime show in 1993, and the final episode aired on March 26.
Showrunner Mark Goodson decided to hire the show’s original host Richard Dawson as Combs’ replacement hoping to use Dawson’s popularity and fame to boost the show’s ratings. The move proved helpful but only for a time, and the show got canceled again in 1995. Combs didn’t take the dismissal kindly and was hurt by the replacement from his show.
He, however, tried his hand at other ventures, such as serving as guest commentators for the World Wrestling Federation and the Survivor Series. He also appeared in celebrity editions of FamilyFeud and landed roles in 227 and InLivingColor. Combs shot a pilot for a talk show, but networks refused to pick it up. He was then offered a hosting job for a Family Feud rival game show called FamilyChallenge, but that too didn’t work out.
Combs had a healthy salary during his time on Family Feud, but poor financial management saw him always falling short on cash. After his firing from Family Feud, his two comedy clubs had to close, and his house went into foreclosure due to his inability to pay his mortgage.
How did Ray Combs die?
After his dismissal on Family Feud, things seemed to go awry for Combs as he then got involved in a severe car crash that left one of the discs in his spine shattered. The injury saw the star getting paralyzed, and although he eventually walked again, he was in constant pain.
The stress of it all began taking a toll on Combs’ marriage, and his wife of 18 years filed for divorce in 1995. In June 1996, police went to his home in Glendale and found the star repeatedly banging his head against the wall. His wife informed law enforcement that he had tried to take his own life using prescription medicine before.
He was taken into protective custody and committed for a psychiatric evaluation. However, the next day, the police found Combs dead, having died by suicide. The star died at 40 years old.
How to get help: In the U.S., call theNational Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.
RELATED: ‘Family Feud’: ‘Loud and Energetic’ Personalities Are Most Likely to Be Cast as Contestants
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Struggles and Tragic Death of 'Family Feud' Host Ray Combs
Ray Combs, a funny man by trade, never got over his professional and personal blows that led to his death two years after he stopped hosting “Family Feud.”
After Ray’s graduation from Garfield High School in Hamilton in 1974, he knew he wanted to be a comic full time. But few people made successful vocations from being comedians, and in 1979, Ray decided to write David Letterman for advice.
THE LEAP OF FAITH
In response, Ray received words of encouragement, and together with his drive towards comedy, he took the leap in 1982.
“What I’m about to do is almost impossible. But you can’t stop me, no one can,” Ray told his wife, Debbie. He quit his job as a furniture salesman in Indianapolis, they packed up and left for Los Angeles so he could pursue his career in comedy.
By 1984, Ray got placed as the fifth best comedian among 200 hopefuls during a Los Angeles standup competition, and in 1986, his career looked up when he landed a comedy spot with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”
THE BEGINNING OF A TROUBLED TIME
The same year, Ray became the host of “Family Feud” until 1994 when producers brought back the show’s original host, Richard Dawson. A move that devastated Ray, as the show’s director, Marc Breslow said, “Losing Family Feud was a huge blow because it became his world.”
In July 1994, Ray also got seriously injured during a car accident on a highway north of Los Angeles. It left him temporarily paralyzed and with permanent pain from spinal disk injuries.
Shortly after, financial woes added to his troubles as two of his Ohio comedy clubs failed, which ended with his Hamilton, Ohio, home being foreclosed on in September 1995.
When his 18-year marriage to Debbie also ended on the rocks in 1995, the couple briefly reconciled before they refiled for divorce. On June 1, 1996, Ray’s circumstances got the better of him.
A friend called Glendale police, the area where Ray and Debbie lived with their six children and reported that an “agitated and very upset” Ray had been tearing up the inside of the house. When police arrived, they found Ray bleeding from bashing his head against a wall. According to his old friend, Larry St. George, Ray never recovered from his career that came to an abrupt halt after “Family Feud.”
“I guess he just climbed to the top and looked down. Then he realized there was no other way to go,” Larry told PEOPLE in 1996.
THE DAY BEFORE HIS DEATH
Forty years old at the time, Ray then got admitted to the psychiatric ward of Glendale Adventist hospital in California. However, early the next morning on June 2, staff found Ray dead after he made a noose from bed sheets and hanged himself in a closet.
Police found no suicide note, and Los Angeles County Health officials launched an investigation into his suicide, as the bar in the closet wasn’t supposed to be able to support his weight, and being under a 72-hour psychiatric watch; Ray shouldn’t have had access to anything harmful.
Ray will always be remembered for his six years on “Family Feud,” which even in 2019, is still going strong. In a related story, comedian Chris Kattan’s reign on “Family Feud” got cut short in March 2019.
The country singer, Scotty McCreery and his wife, Gabi came up against the “Saturday Night Live” comedian and gave awesome answers that got them the win on “Celebrity Family Feud.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.
Publicity photo (1988)
|Birth name||Raymond Neil Combs, Jr.|
|Born||(1956-04-03)April 3, 1956|
Hamilton, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||June 2, 1996(1996-06-02) (aged 40)|
Glendale Adventist Medical Center, Glendale, California, U.S.
|Medium||Stand-up, film, television|
|Education||Garfield High School|
|Genres||Improvisational comedy, observational comedy|
(m. 1977; sep. 1995)
Raymond Neil Combs, Jr. (April 3, 1956 – June 2, 1996) was an American stand-up comedian, actor, and game-show host. 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 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 (Eubanks) and 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 retitled 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 hosts 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 cancelled 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, in 1992, decided to replace Combs with original host Richard Dawson in the hopes of spiking ratings (Dawson's return season initially drew good ratings, but was unable to sustain this strength long-term, and Family Feud's second incarnation ended after the 1994–95 season). By all accounts, Combs was hurt by his dismissal from the show.
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 of the Hart Family against Shawn Michaels and his Knights.
In addition to these two appearances, he appeared in 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 master of ceremonies of the annual StarGaze charity events produced by Jim Kelly from 1993 to 1995.
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 missionary from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 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, though Combs later told the police that he fell in the jacuzzi. Shortly after police arrived, Combs' 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. On June 2, 1996, around 4:10 a.m., hospital personnel discovered Combs hanging by his bed sheets in his closet. They took Combs to the emergency room, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival. His death was ruled a suicide.
On June 7, 1996, Combs' funeral was held at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Glendale. His remains were 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 deeply 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, and also had a $470,000 mortgage. The bank foreclosed on the family's Glendale home, and Debbie was forced to sell some of her husband's autographed photos and celebrity caricatures. A benefit held at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood helped raise $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."
- ^Baber, David (August 11, 2009). Television Game Show Hosts. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 39. ISBN .
- ^ abcArmstrong, Coleen (February 1988). "Born to be funny". Cincinnati. pp. 17–18. Retrieved November 28, 2011.
- ^ abcd"Game Over". People. June 17, 1996. Archived from the original on March 16, 2011. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
- ^Ray Combs. E!. E! True Hollywood Story. November 16, 1997.
- ^Heenan, Bobby; Anderson, Steve (2004). Bobby the Brain: Wrestling's Bad Boy Tells All. Triumph Books. pp. 137–138. ISBN .
- ^Condon, Lee (June 4, 1996). "Police To Probe Suicide Of Talk Show Host Who Hanged Self In Hospital". Daily News. Los Angeles. Retrieved May 17, 2010.
- ^"Crowd attends funeral for former TV game show host". Portsmouth Daily Times. June 8, 1996. p. A3. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
- ^"Comedian Ray Combs commits suicide". Deseret News. June 3, 1996. p. A6. Retrieved January 15, 2013.
- ^Mitchell, Emily; Baker, Ken (October 7, 1996). "Those Left Behind". People. 46 (15). ISSN 0093-7673.
To what combs happened ray
Remembering Hamilton Comedian Ray Combs Who Died 25 Years Ago Today
Every year in early June, I pause to remember my old friend Ray Combs.
The former Family Feud host – the funniest person ever to come from Hamilton -- died on this day 25 years ago. He was only 40.
Tragically, it was by suicide. But I try to focus on all the fun and laughs Ray Combs gave us in his 18-year career, not the sad ending for his wife and six children.
Combs struck comedy gold on his Tonight Show debut on Oct. 23, 1986, when Johnny Carson's TV audience sang TV theme songs with him. He had first performed the routine four years earlier, at Sharonville's old Red Dog Saloon.
The 1974 Hamilton Garfield High School grad started dabbling in comedy in 1978, after serving two years as a Mormon missionary in Arizona (1975-77) and selling furniture in Indianapolis. He sought career guidance from Indianapolis native David Letterman, who helped him get established in Los Angeles when he moved there in 1982.
Combs was subbing for comedian Kevin Orr at the Red Dog in 1982 when he realized that he had exhausted all of his material during the first show. The audience stayed for the second show, and he needed something quick. He remembered seeing someone celebrating a birthday in the audience, so he encouraged everyone to sing "Happy Birthday."
Then he sang the first line to The Addams Family 1960's sitcom: "The house is a museum…" The audience joined in.
Next he sang, "Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…" and soon everyone was singing the Gilligan's Island theme. Then they joined him singing themes to The Brady Bunch, Green Acres and Mr. Ed.
After moving to Los Angeles, the TV theme song bit was one of his go-to routines when he worked as a "warm-up" for studio audiences during tapings for Golden Girls, Sherman Hemsley's Amen and other sitcoms. The warm-up comedian keeps the studio audience engaged and entertained during tapings, which can run two or three hours due to retakes, rewrites, blown lines and set changes.
Carson, whose production company owned Amen, saw Combs at work and changed his life.
"He came to a run-through of a show which he owns, called Amen, and I was doing the warm-up. Consequently, that led to me getting on the Tonight Show," Combs said on the Wil Shriner Show in the May 1988 clip below.
Carson introduced him to Tonight Show viewers in 1986 by explaining that Combs was "a little bit different kind of a comedian" because he does studio warm-ups. "It's a tough job. And he's the best at it."
Combs' six-minute stand-up included TV references to The Flintstones and The Love Boat. He concluded his routine by saying, "My entire life I'd always had a dream that someday I'd be able to walk out on this show and make people laugh and tonight made that dream come true. Thanks you and good night."
Carson was so impressed that he waved Combs over to the seat next to his desk. From there, Combs did his TV theme sing-along bit. (A month after his Carson debut, Combs told me: "For a long time, I was embarrassed to tell other comedians that I could fill time by doing it. It's unique. It never fails.")
The Tonight Show changed his life.
In less than a year, he was pitched offers to host four games shows – the Family Feud revival for $800,000 a year; a reboot of Carson's 1950's Who Do You Trust; the new Win, Lose or Draw from Burt Reynolds company; and Scruples for NBC's Brandon Tartikoff and Columbia Pictures Television. He chose Family Feud, which he hosted from 1988 to 1994.
Six years making high six figures on CBS' daytime lineup and evening syndication versions gave him money to open Cincinnati comedy clubs, CaddyCombs on Second Street (1988-1990) and the Cincinnati Comedy Connection in Carew Tower (1991-95), and to provide for his wife and their six kids. He once owned two Jaguars. He had homes in Los Angeles and Hamilton. He bought investment property in Hamilton. Combs helped fundraise for Hamilton High School's Virgil Schwarm stadium.
Then his world fell apart in 1994.
Early that year, he was told that original Family Feud host Richard Dawson would replace him that fall to bolster ratings. In July 1994, he suffered temporary paralysis of his arms and legs in an auto accident on the Los Angeles Freeway. Doctors told him that he'd never walk again.
In 1995, he closed his Carew Tower comedy club. By October 1995, he started working on a new Family Channel show, Family Challenge. It wasn't easy. He continued to have problems moving his fingers and hands -- not a good thing for a game show host who holds a microphone and note cards. After Combs' death, Family Challenge executive producer Woody Fraser told me Combs was in constant pain since the accident.
In 1996, his marriage was ending to Debbie, his Hamilton childhood sweetheart. He moved into a nearby apartment. Combs defaulted on his two Hamilton homes, which were sold at a Butler County Sheriff's auction. His five-bedroom home in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale was facing a $467,675 foreclosure.
On June 2, Debbie's 40th birthday, he hung himself with a bed sheet at Glendale Adventist Medical Center while under suicide watch. Police said he was "despondent over a pending divorce."
When I went to Los Angeles the next month for the Television Critics Association's summer press tour, to preview fall TV shows, Debbie agreed to an interview, her first since Ray's death. We talked for several hours one evening. Then I stayed up all night transcribing the tape recording and writing a front-page story for the Enquirer called, "When The Laughter Stopped: Ray Combs' Widow Searches For Answers."
Debbie Combs told me she had $500,000 in debts, and asked if I knew anything about Ray's Hamilton properties. She was preparing to move her six children, ages 5-18, from their five-bedroom home into a two-bedroom rental. The family was getting meals from a food pantry.
"I don't have anything," she told me.
I'll never forget talking to an excited Combs in 1986 after his Tonight Show debut about watching young comics on Carson's show while growing up in Hamilton. "I'd stay up late watching Johnny Carson, dreaming that I'd be on his show," he told me.
When we met in L.A. after he signed with Family Feud , he insisted on paying for dinner.
"I've prepared my whole life for what is going to happen. It's my dream and I'm living it … It's amazing you can make this kind of money without throwing a football or risking breaking a leg. It's great to have the money to do whatever you want to do with your family for just being yourself and having fun," he told me.
And I'll never forget meeting with Debbie in L.A. after her husband's death to hear about the flip side to Ray's fame and fortune.
"I could see the trouble coming, but money wasn't an issue to Ray. He'd say, 'You don't have to worry about that' – which worried me," Debbie said.
She told me how his career -- and the medications after the 1994 car crash – changed the guy she met in first grade at Hamilton's old Van Buren Elementary School.
"His work was 'show business,' and it really took its toll. He started not being really himself because he always had to be what people expected. He had to be 'on.' "
When we last spoke, as Ray was preparing his Family Challenge comeback nine months before his death, he told me: "To fight my way back, and come back to do this show – I don't call it a miracle, but I do see things differently. Every day, I feel a little bit better. I can't complain. I've been very blessed."
Too bad he couldn't focus on his blessings as his dream turned into a nightmare.
Come into me. Enter me. She whispered hotly, grabbing my cock again.
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" Thank you, dear, says the mother-in-law. I started with the neck, then stretched my shoulders and arms. Then I tell her: Sitting is not comfortable. Come, I'll give you a full massage. " We went into the room, she laid a sheet on the carpet and lay on her stomach.