Chuck Barris, the Father of Modern TV, Dies at 87

The King of Schlock TV wasn't just about the Gong Show. He wrote Palisades Park and brought newlyweds with him on hits.

Chuck Barris, the legendary TV show creator, songwriter, novelist and self-admitted CIA hitman, died of natural causes Tuesday afternoon at his home in Palisades, N.Y., it was announced by his publicist, Paul Shefrin. Barris was 87.

Barris was best known for The Gong Show until he reinvented his past in his 1984 memoir Confessions of A Dangerous Mind, where he claimed he was a CIA assassin who was recruited at the beginning of his TV game show career. Barris invented The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and told the world about “Palisades Park.” He wrote the song while he worked on American Bandstand. It was recorded by Freddy Cannon, of “Tallahassee Lassie” fame. The song peaked at Number Three in 1962 and was covered by The Ramones, the Beach Boys and Bruce Springsteen.

Barris wrote was born in Philadelphia on June 3, 1929. He graduated from Drexel University in 1953 and started working at NBC in 1955. He was hired to keep Dick Clark out of trouble during the payola scandals. Barris was director of West Coast daytime programming for ABC by 1959.

Long before American Idol and America’s Got Talent, Barris was the “King of Schlock.” Chuck Barris Productions, which he formed in the sixties, launched The Dating Game, where a bachelorette chose her date on the blind after questioning three men hidden out of view. Barris followed it up with The Newlywed Game, where newly married couples confounded censors by finding new ways of saying they were makin’ whoopee.

But Barris really tested censors endurance with The Gong Show. Besides letting the Popsicle Twins teach the most fun way to spend or make a nickel, they introduced the world to the Unknown Comic, Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, Steve Martin, Pee-wee Herman, BoxCar Willie and The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.

The not quite ready for prime time guests did it for the chance to win $516.32, the minimum pay allowed by the Screen Actors Guild at the time.

In the early eighties, Barris locked himself up in a hotel in New York City for two months to write his 1984 memoir Confessions of A Dangerous Mind. The book as adapted by George Clooney into a film in 2002. The film stars Sam Rockwell as Barris.

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The C.I.A. denied Barris had anything to do with the agency. “It sounds like he has been standing too close to the gong all those years,” CIA spokesman Tom Crispell said at the time. “Chuck Barris has never been employed by the CIA and the allegation that he was a hired assassin is absurd.”

“Have you ever heard the CIA acknowledge someone was an assassin?” Barris publicly responded

Barris wrote the semi-autobiographical novel You and Me, Babe in 1974. Barris also published The Game Show King: A Confession in 1993 and Bad Grass Never Dies: A Sequel to Confessions of a Dangerous Mind in 2004. Barris published the comic novels The Big Question (2007), and Who Killed Art Deco? (2009). He published Della: A Memoir of My Daughter in 2010. Della was Barris’s only child, from his first marriage to Lyn Levy. Della died of a drug overdose in 1998, at age 36.

Barris married Robin Altman in 1980. They divorced in 1999. Baris is survived by his third wife, Mary Kane.