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How Merv Griffin’s Show Biz Career Followed Him to His Grave

Photo Credit: Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

Although he had a very fruitful life and career, Merv Griffin might be best known for his titular television show that aired for over 20 years. Long before he passed away he knew what he wanted his tombstone to read, and when his death came in 2007, he stuck with his plan.

Griffin had a successful life in show business

Merv Griffin singing and playing the piano
Entertainer Merv Griffin rehearses in Los Angeles, California, circa 1954. (Photo Credit: Earl Leaf / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Born on July 6, 1925, in San Mateo, California, Merv Griffin began his career in show business as a teenager, performing songs for a San Francisco radio program. He went on to release the hit song “I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts” in 1950. It sold over three million copies.

Griffin then tried his hand at acting after being discovered by Doris Day. He took supporting roles in a number of films, but his most notable early acting role came in 1953’s So This Is Love. Eventually, Griffin turned away from film and looked to television to continue his career on screen. In 1958, he became the host of Play Your Hunch, considered one of the best game shows of its time.

He came up with your favorite game shows

The set of Jeopardy!
A general view on the set of the “Jeopardy!” Million Dollar Celebrity Invitational Tournament Show Taping on April 17, 2010, in Culver City, California. (Photo Credit: Amanda Edwards / Getty Images)

Griffin must have enjoyed his time hosting the show, as he soon came up with several other famous game shows that are still aired today – one of them being the iconic Jeopardy!. The longtime favorite quiz show came to be during a flight from Michigan to New York City. He and his then-wife Julann Griffin realized there was no good “question and answer” game show being aired, and decided to give contestants the answers rather than the question.

Wheel of Fortune is also one of his creations

the set of Wheel of Fortune
Pat Sajak, Host of “Wheel of Fortune”, Vanna White, Co-Host of “Wheel of Fortune” and Alex Trebek, Host of “Jeopardy!” (Photo Credit: M. Phillips/WireImage)

Another one of Griffin’s game shows is Wheel of Fortune. The game show originally aired in 1975 and became an absolute sensation when Pat Sajak and Vanna White began hosting the nighttime broadcast. Wheel of Fortune has now become one of the longest-running syndicated game shows in history.

His true love was his talk show

Merv Griffin on his show interviewing Richard Pryor
Comedian Richard Pryor appears with Merv Griffin on “The Merv Griffin Show” circa 1965 in New York, New York. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Although Griffin was a mogul in the world of show business, it was his talk show, The Merv Griffin Show, that he loved the most. It aired from 1962 to 1986 and was broadcast on multiple networks including NBC and CBS. At the time, he didn’t know those were some of the best days of his life, but looking back, he later said, “I never anticipated ever being a talk show host in my life. Every day of it, every day of my career, I’ve cherished. I love it.”

It was Griffin’s love for his talk show that inspired him to figure out exactly what he wanted to have written on his tombstone when he passed away.

Griffin knew what he wanted his tombstone to say

Merv Griffin's grave site
Merv Griffin gravesite at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, 1218 Glendon Avenue, Los Angeles, California (Photo Credit: Carol M. Highsmith / Buyenlarge / Getty Images)

In September of 1980, Griffin appeared on The David Letterman Show, where he answered many questions like how to handle things when an interview with a guest takes a wrong turn. Griffin had some strong but simple advice for Letterman: “You let it happen. And then you sit back… then you say ‘we’ll be right back’.”

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And that was it – that was what he knew he wanted on his tombstone. Griffin eventually passed away from prostate cancer at the age of 82 in September 2007. He was buried at the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park & Mortuary in Los Angeles, where his grave reads, “I will not be right back after this message.”

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!