Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Instagram

‘Family Feud’ Contestants Took Herpes Tests During Richard Dawson’s Time Hosting

Photo Credit: American Broadcasting Companies / Getty Images and Erik Hein / American Broadcasting Companies / Getty Images
Photo Credit: American Broadcasting Companies / Getty Images and Erik Hein / American Broadcasting Companies / Getty Images

In television history, few moments are as iconic—or as contentious—as Richard Dawson’s penchant for kissing female contestants on the game show Family Feud. While his actions have become a part of pop culture lore, they also sparked considerable controversy, leading to unusual measures on set. Times have changed, and as we all know, such behavior simply would not fly today.

There was backlash against Richard Dawson’s kissing

Richard Dawson kissing a contestant.
Richard Dawson kissing a contestant while hosting the ABC game show, ‘Family Feud,’ circa 1980. (Photo Credit: American Broadcasting Companies / Getty Images)

Richard Dawson, the charming host of Family Feud, was known for his signature move: kissing female contestants. While some saw this as a harmless gesture, others were less amused. Viewers raised concerns about the potential health risks involved in such “promiscuous kissing.” A letter published in the Philadelphia Daily News summed up the apprehensions succinctly: “As a physician, I have wondered about the risks Richard Dawson takes in kissing every female contestant on Family Feud. The diseases that could be transmitted by promiscuous kissing are too long and too loathsome to recount here. Does Dawson or the producers take any caution to prevent infection? Are none of them informed?”

These concerns were not isolated. Kliph Nesteroff, in his book Outrageous: A History of Showbiz and the Culture Wars, recounts the widespread disapproval: “Several game show fans were repulsed. One viewer complained, ‘Richard Dawson spreads more bugs every week than a flu epidemic.'” So why did Dawson continue to kiss female contestants?

Dawson had his reasons for all the kisses

Richard Dawson kissing a female contestant.
Dawson believed his kisses helped calm the nerves of the female contestants. (Photo Credit: Bob D’Amico / American Broadcasting Companies / Getty Images)

Dawson had what some may consider a heartfelt explanation for his kisses. In a 2010 interview with the Television Academy, he recounted the origins of his trademark gesture. It all began when a contestant was so nervous she couldn’t name a green vegetable. “I said, ‘I’m gonna do something that my mom would do to me whenever I had a problem of any kind,'” he recalled. “And I kissed her on the cheek, and I said, ‘That’s for luck.’ And she said, ‘Asparagus.'”

Dawson believed that his kisses helped to calm the contestants’ nerves, making them feel more at ease on national television. Despite his good intentions, the show’s producers were less enthusiastic. ABC even instructed Dawson to “stop the kissing” due to mounting complaints. However, the host claimed that thousands of letters poured in, showing overwhelming support for his affectionate habit. As we know, during his tenure, Dawson did not stop the kissing.

Herpes testing became an on-set protocol

Richard Dawson holds up a figurine while kissing a contestant.
To try and keep things safe, the network required contestants to take herpes tests. (Photo Credit: ABC Photo Archives / Disney General Entertainment Content / Getty Images)

The controversy over Dawson’s kissing led to an unprecedented measure on the Family Feud set: herpes testing for contestants. According to Nesteroff’s book, this policy was implemented after viewers raised health concerns. Contestants, both male and female, were required to “undergo a mouth test with a magnifying glass from medical staff.”

Nesteroff provides a vivid account of the experience: “A contestant revealed that before her appearance, a Family Feud production assistant entered the dressing room with a magnifying glass and a cotton swab and said, ‘Okay, everybody line up for your herpes test.'” This procedure was not only unique but also highlighted the extent to which the show went to address public concern.

Despite these precautions, the debate over Dawson’s kisses persisted. Some defended the practice, suggesting it was a product of a different era. “When you watch clips of that era of Family Feud on YouTube and you see Richard Dawson kissing the ladies, a lot of the comments in the comment section will say things like, ‘Well, it was a different time. That’s the way men were back then. It was a different time. People weren’t so sensitive,’” Nesteroff explained in an interview. However, his research shows that even in that “different time,” people were still upset by the act. “And here, again, is evidence to the contrary that all kinds of people were complaining.”

More from us: Sean Penn Reveals 2008 Movie About Harvey Milk ‘Was the Last Time’ He Enjoyed Being on a Film Set

Richard Dawson, who passed away in 2012, remains a memorable figure in television history. His kisses on Family Feud may have been well-intentioned, but they also ruffled the feathers of the public enough to cause the network to invoke mandatory herpes testing by the contestants. We wonder how many times Dawson himself had to take that test?…

Join The Vintage Newsletter community today and unlock a treasure trove of weekly curated content, exploring nostalgia, history, and fascinating facts from the past.

June Steele

June Steele is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News