Gene Rayburn, 81, who amused TV audiences from the 1960s to the 1980s as host of "The Match Game," died of congestive heart failure Nov. 29 at the home of his daughter in Gloucester, Mass.
"The Match Game" was a top game show during much of the 1960s and 1970s. Contestants would try to match answers to nonsense questions with a panel featuring such celebrities as Richard Dawson, Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly and Betty White.
The questions were often spiced with double-entendres. Mr. Rayburn also became known for the occasional verbal blunder. Interviewing a contestant and meaning to compliment her dimples, he looked at her face and said, "you have the most beautiful nipples I have ever seen."
Mr. Rayburn, a recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, had been nominated for five Daytime Emmy awards. He also invented the long thin microphone that he carried on the show.
Mr. Rayburn, who was born in Christopher, Ill., moved to New York in the 1930s to become an opera singer.
After Army service during World War II, he became a disc jockey instead, and the "Rayburn & Finch" show with partner Dee Finch on WNEW helped popularize the idea of morning drive time.
From 1953 to 1959, he was the announcer for Steve Allen on the "Tonight Show," on NBC-TV delivering comic weather reports and acting in sketches with comedians Louis Nye and Buddy Hackett.
In the early 1960s, he finally earned the opportunity to work in the theater, appearing on Broadway in "Bye Bye Birdie" and traveling with the national company of "Come Blow Your Horn."
On television, he also acted in such live dramas on "Kraft Theatre" and "Robert Montgomery Presents."
But he became a game show specialist. He hosted ABC's "The Name's the Same," and NBC's "Make the Connection," "Dough-Re-Mi" and "Play Your Hunch," before the "The Match Game" premiered in 1962. It ran on NBC until 1969, then was revived on CBS from 1973 to 1979, and in 1983 to 1984. There was also a syndicated evening version during the 1970s. Old "Match Game" episodes are now played twice a day on cable's Game Show Network.
His wife of 56 years, Helen, who appeared with him on the short-lived 1970s game show "Tattletales," died in 1996. Survivors include his daughter, Lynne Rayburn of Gloucester.