Entertainer, Businessman Griffin Dies
Sunday, August 12, 2007; 11:25 PM
LOS ANGELES -- Merv Griffin, the big band-era crooner turned impresario who parlayed his "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune" game shows into a multimillion-dollar empire, died Sunday. He was 82.
Griffin died of prostate cancer, according to a statement from his family that was released by Marcia Newberger, spokeswoman for The Griffin Group/Merv Griffin Entertainment.
From his beginning as a $100-a-week San Francisco radio singer, Griffin moved on as vocalist for Freddy Martin's band, sometime film actor, TV game and talk show host, and made Forbes' list of richest Americans several times.
"The Merv Griffin Show" lasted more than 20 years, and Griffin said his capacity to listen contributed to his success.
"If the host is sitting there thinking about his next joke, he isn't listening," Griffin reasoned in a recent interview.
But his biggest break financially came from inventing and producing "Jeopardy" in the 1960s and "Wheel of Fortune" in the 1970s. After they had become the hottest game shows on television, Griffin sold the rights to Coca Cola's Columbia Pictures Television Unit for $250 million in 1986, retaining a share of the profits. He also continued to receive royalties for the popular "Jeopardy!" theme song, which he wrote.
"My father was a visionary," Griffin's son, Tony Griffin, said in a statement issued Sunday. "He loved business and continued his many projects and holdings even while hospitalized."
When Griffin entered a hospital a month ago, he was working on the first week of production of a new syndicated game show, "Merv Griffin's Crosswords," his son said.
Griffin was also a longtime friend of former President Reagan and his wife, Nancy.
"This is heartbreaking, not just for those of us who loved Merv personally, but for everyone around the world who has known Merv through his music, his television shows and his business," Nancy Reagan said in a statement.
She said Griffin "was there for me every day after Ronnie died" in 2004.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recalled Sunday that his very first U.S. talk show appearance was on "The Merv Griffin Show" in 1974.