Chuck Barris - Gong-Show - Public Domain
Public Domain

Taking off his hat, he rubs his head full of curly brown and grey hair, smiles widely and claps.  “We’ll be back with more….STUFF…right after this message!”  I’m 15 years old, sitting in a our wood paneled, red shag carpeted basement TV room watching “The Gong Show.”  It’s my favorite show and its creator and host, Chuck Barris, is the crazed, funny uncle I never had. Along with guest judges like Phyllis Diller, Jaye P. Morgan and Jamie Farr and regulars like The Unknown Comic and “Gene, Gene the Dancing Machine,” Mr. Barris and The Gong Show was one of the things that made the Seventies truly unique.

As reported in The New York Times, Chuck Barris died on Tuesday, March 21st at his home in Palisades, New York.  He was 87.

Like a high school talent show, “The Gong Show” stage was open to anyone with a mere semblance of talent, only these contestants must be willing to risk embarrassment, ridicule, and scorn on national TV, all for the chance of winning a grand prize of $516.32, delivered at the end of the show in the form of an oversized cardboard check.
If the act was so terrifically awful, showing no redeeming entertainment value, the offended celebrity judge would “gong” the act off the stage.Chuck Barris publicity GSN imageIn addition, Chuck Barris created “The Dating Game” and “The Newlywed Game,” along with other, less-successful daytime television game shows.  He also wrote books: a number of novels and an autobiography, 1984’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” in which he claimed to have worked as an assassin for the CIA throughout the 1960s.  While the CIA denied that Barris was ever involved with the organization, Barris himself never confirmed or denied the veracity of his own claim.  The book was made into a movie (directed by George Clooney and starring Sam Rockwell as Chuck Barris) in 2003.  In 2010, he wrote “Della: A Memoir of My Daughter” about his child who died of a drug overdose in the 1990s.

Early in his career, Barris wrote the pop song, “Palisades Park,” made into a hit record by singer Freddy Cannon in 1962.

But it was as host of “The Gong Show” for which Chuck Barris was best known.  With a revolving set of costume jackets, hats and props, Barris introduced the acts (almost exclusively amateurs) giggling, laughing, clapping and pointing his way through jokes and bad puns.

Here are a few of the show’s more memorable moments:

“The Popsicle Twins” (my personal favorite, when it aired in September, 1977.  I was 16).

“Burping Sensation Alan Katz”

“Alice Cooper sings `Going Out of My Head’”

“The Bait Brothers”

“Gene, Gene the Dancing Machine” (celebrity judge Jaye P. Morgan bares her breasts at the 2:05 mark!)

“Worst Gong Show Contestant…segment…ever”