Chuck Barris, the Philadelphia-born game show king who claimed in his autobiography to be a CIA assassin, died March 21 at his New York home, according to the Associated Press. He was 87.
Barris, who created The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show, spoke to the Jewish Exponent several times over the years.
In a 2003 Exponent article, Barris described his Bar Mitzvah at Har Zion Temple.
“I had only one line in the ceremony,” he said. “I was jammed in with this other kid, who did the main part [of the Haftorah]. I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled either, that I suddenly was on the bimah with him.”
Although Barris said he grew up in a largely secular home, his faith remained important to him throughout his life and included a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 2000.
“After my bout with cancer, I started to go to Friday-night services, to thank God for pulling me through,” Barris said.
A native of Bala Cynwyd, Barris graduated from Lower Merion High School and what is now Drexel University before gravitating to the entertainment world.
After a short stint at NBC, he ended up working in standards and practices at ABC before developing his game show empire. He also wrote Freddy Cannon’s 1962 hit single “Palisades Park,” the AP said
In the 1960s, Barris introduced the hit television programs The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, as well as other less-successful shows.
“Everything that I have created, I thought would entertain,” Barris said in an Exponent article from the 1980s. “Some ideas didn’t take off, such as the program involving married couples and their mothers-in-law. What I forgot to remember is that someone’s mother-in-law is someone else’s mother.”
Barris also gained fame as the creator and host of The Gong Show, which aired between 1976 and 1980, and featured odd performers – or those with little talent, which was part of the appeal.
Although critics usually savaged Barris for his lowbrow programming, he didn’t seem to mind.
“I knew I wouldn’t get the Nobel Prize for what I was doing,” Barris told the Exponent in 2003.
Or, in the 1980s-era interview, he said, “I think there is value in what I offer.”
In the 1980s, after directing and starring in the flop The Gong Show Movie, Barris wrote his autobiography Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: An Unauthorized Biography, in which he claimed to be a CIA assassin, the AP said.
Although the CIA vehemently denied the assertion — “It sounds like he’s been standing too close to the gong all those years,” CIA spokesman Tom Crispell said — the book was turned into a movie directed by George Clooney that starred Sam Rockwell as Barris and featured Clooney, Drew Barrymore and Julia Roberts.
In the late 1980s, Barris moved to the south of France, remaining largely out of the limelight.
He showed a more-serious side in 2010 with the book Della: A Memoir of My Daughter. She had died in 1998 at the age of 36 from an accidental overdose, and Barris admitted he didn’t handle her bipolar mental issues well.
“I definitely feel that I abandoned her when I sent her packing,” Barris said in a 2010 Exponent interview. “I don’t celebrate Father’s Day.”
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