By Tom Gliatto Dahvi Shira
June 18, 2012 12:00 PM

Before he became a legend hosting Family Feud, Richard Dawson was already known in Hollywood as the go-to game-show guest. “We sat together on Match Game,” recalls Betty White, his frequent co-panelist on the ’70s game show. “He would draw ants across his card, then across the table, then across my card. We thought it was the funniest thing in the world.”

And the merriment never let up. The British-born TV icon, who was 79 when he died of complications from esophageal cancer June 2 in L.A., started out as a comic and graduated to sitcoms-he was safe-cracker Corporal Newkirk on Hogan’s Heroes (1965-71)-before landing Feud in 1976. Dawson, who parodied his freewheeling image in the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man, had two signatures: the catchphrase “Survey says …” and a fondness for kissing female contestants-an estimated 20,000 over his 10 seasons on Feud. One of the women he smooched, Gretchen Johnson, became his second wife in 1991. She survives him, along with two sons and a daughter. Son Gary described him as “an amazing talent, a loving husband, a great dad and a doting grandfather.” As Dawson once told PEOPLE, “I may be smarmy, but I must be doing something right.”