Chuck Barris, the pioneering TV producer behind The Dating Game and quirky on-air host of The Gong Show, who later claimed to have moonlighted as an assassin for the CIA, died Tuesday in his Palisades, N.Y. home.
He was 87.
Dubbed the “The King of Schlock,” Barris found success in the mid-60s as the creator of The Dating Game, and later The Newlywed Game. But because he worked behind the camera, American audiences didn’t really discover his wild brand of humor until the talent show, The Gong Show, hit the airwaves in 1976. He ended up taking over hosting duties after the original host was fired, and the show became a cult hit around odd-ball contestants like the “Unknown Comic,” who wore a paper bag over his head as he delivered his one-liners.
After abandoning the television industry in the early ’80s, Barris’ next chapter proved to be even more bizarre than any of the contestants on his signature talent show. He produced a memoir called, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, in which he proclaimed himself as a former CIA hitman.
The spy agency denied the claims, and most critics didn’t buy it either. But the book did inspire a film adaptation in 2002, directed by and starring George Clooney.
“There is something shockingly fascinating about someone of his wealth and fame who would want to say this about himself,” Clooney told the L.A. Times in 2oo2. “Whether it’s true or not is in Chuck’s head…. I’ve asked [him] about the specifics of the story, and he would look me in the eyes and not say anything.”
His “schlock” will live on long after Barris’ passing: ABC has ordered a revival of The Gong Show, courtesy of Will Arnett, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
He is survived by a wife, Mary.
This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.