Another loss in entertainment Blog by The Future Aint What it Used to Be
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He made answers questions and vowels commodities Merv Griffin's life was a medley of success: Creator of TV icons "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune," talk show impresario and, ultimately, business tycoon. By Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times Last update: August 12, 2007 9:05 PM Print this story E-mail this story Save to Share on newsvine Share on Digg Related Content Talk show host Merv Griffin speaks in front of a television audience. The entertainer and entrepreneur has died at age 82. Associated Press Griffin's empire Audio: Music from 'Jeopardy' Audio: Merv Griffin says daytime TV was special Audio: Merv Griffin talks about 'Jeopardy' and 'Wheel of Fortune' More from Obituaries He made answers questions and vowels commodities Deaths elsewhere Griffin's empire Deaths elsewhere Bob Madryga tried to keep kids out of trouble LOS ANGELES - Merv Griffin, a onetime big-band singer who leveraged his later career as a TV talk-show host into a business empire that included the wildly successful syndicated game shows "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune," died Sunday. He was 82. Griffin died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to a statement from his family. On July 19, his company said that Griffin was being treated for a recurrence of prostate cancer. "I'd rather play 'Jeopardy!' than live it," the statement quoted Griffin as saying. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan called the news of Griffin's death "heartbreaking" and remembered his friendship and support during former President Ronald Reagan's battle with Alzheimer's disease. "He was there for me every day after Ronnie died," she said. "Wheel of Fortune" host Pat Sajak said he had lost "a dear friend." Griffin, who sold his Merv Griffin Enterprises, including the syndicated shows, to Coca-Cola Co. for $250 million in 1986, was recently reported to have a net worth of $1.6 billion. The Griffin Group includes film and TV production; a luxury home development; closed-circuit coverage of horse racing around the country; a real-estate brokerage specializing in high-end residential properties and a stable of thoroughbreds. Although he was a TV talk-show host for more than two decades, Griffin's most enduring show business claim to fame is creating and producing "Jeopardy!" (launched in 1964) and "Wheel of Fortune" (launched in 1975). Both shows originally aired on NBC and, beginning in the 1980s, became the two most popular syndicated game shows in TV history. Both programs were included in the 1986 sale of Merv Griffin Enterprises. But Griffin also wrote the theme music for "Wheel of Fortune" and the famous "thinking music" played in the "Jeopardy!" final round, which continued to provide him with millions of dollars in royalties. "I have to say that the ongoing success of 'Jeopardy!' and 'Wheel' is my biggest thrill," Griffin, a self-described "word and puzzle freak," told the Hollywood Reporter in 2005. "I mean, they're still right there at the top of the ratings -- they've never slipped. They're timeless and ageless, and in the history of TV there has never been anything like them." For older Americans, Griffin is best remembered as the genial host of "The Merv Griffin Show." The Emmy Award-winning show aired variously on NBC, CBS and in syndication from 1962 to 1986. Guests as varied as artists Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol, writers Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, comedians Richard Pryor and Woody Allen and film legends Bette Davis and Orson Welles dropped by to chat. Also thrown into the mix were guests such as burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee, transsexual Christine Jorgensen and visionary architect Buckminster Fuller -- as well as a string of politicians and newsmakers. After moving his show to late night on CBS in 1969, Griffin altered the traditional talk-show format by introducing "theme" shows in which he devoted entire programs to a single topic or person. The first was a 90-minute salute to "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles Schulz. But the heart of the show was Griffin -- the boyish and gregarious former "boy singer" for the Freddy Martin Orchestra, who scored an unlikely No. 1 hit in 1950 with his Cockney-accented rendition of "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts." As Arthur Treacher, the dry-witted British character actor who served as Griffin's longtime announcer and sidekick, would intone at the start of each show: "Look sharp! Here's the dear boy himself, Merrrvyn!" Griffin's 1958 marriage to Julann Wright, whom he met when she was TV personality Robert Q. Lewis' secretary-assistant, produced a son, Tony, and ended in divorce in 1976. Griffin later had a close relationship with actress Eva Gabor, who died in 1995. Griffin also is survived by two grandchildren.
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