Gene Rayburn, who amused TV audiences from the '60s to the '80s as host of the popular Match Game has died. He was 81.
Rayburn died Monday of congestive heart failure at his daughter's home in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Match Game was a top game show during much of the 1960s and 70s. Contestants would try to match answers to nonsense questions with a panel of celebrities, the questions often spiced up with double entendres.
Rayburn was nominated for five Daytime Emmy awards. He even invented the long thin microphone that he carried on the show.
"He was the Frank Sinatra of game show hosts," said his former agent, Fred Wostbrock.
Born in 1917 in Christopher, Illinois, Rayburn initially came to New York City to become an opera singer. After World War II, he became a disc jockey instead, and the Rayburn and Finch show with partner Dee Finch on WNEW helped popularize the idea of morning drive time.
Moving into TV, he was the announcer for the Tonight show when Steve Allen was host in the 1950s. He acted in live dramas on Kraft Theatre and Robert Montgomery Presents and worked for many years in summer stock theater.
But game shows became his turf. He had stints on Play Your Hunch and Tic Tac Dough before the Match Game premiered in 1962. It ran on NBC until 1969, then was revived on CBS from 1973 to 1979 and in 1983-84. There was also a syndicated evening version during the 1970s.
Like many veteran TV stars, Rayburn will live on in reruns. Old Match Game episodes are played twice a day on cable's Game Show Network.
His wife, Helen, who appeared with Rayburn on the short-lived 1970s game show Tattletales, died in 1996.