Iconic TV personality, game-show producer, and real estate magnate Merv Griffin has died, according to a statement released by The Griffin Group/Merv Griffin Entertainment. He was 82. Griffin was admitted to Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles last month when his prostate cancer, which was originally treated in 1996, had returned.
Griffin started out in show business in the 1940s as a singer, most notably for the Freddy Martin big band. He also acted in various television shows in the 1950s and early 1960s. He got his big break in 1962 when he was asked to fill in as host for Jack Paar on The Tonight Show. He went on to host his own talk show, The Merv Griffin Show, on-and-off from 1962 to 1986. (See a clip of Merv Griffin interviewing the Bee Gees.)
In 1963, he set up Merv Griffin Productions and created two of the most popular, long-running game shows in TV history: Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. Griffin sold his game show empire to Coca-Cola in 1986 for $250 million and embarked on a hotel-buying spree (including the Beverly Hilton, where he lived for years). By 2003, his personal worth was valued at $1.2 billion.
In March 2001, he briefly returned to his singing roots and released an new album, ”It’s Like a Dream” (see Merv Griffin singing ”Happy to Know You” from earlier in his career), and he retired from performing for good soon after.
Griffin spent his final years on a ranch in La Quinta, Calif., where he raised thoroughbred racing horses. He is survived by his son, Anthony (from Griffin’s marriage to Julann Elizabeth Wright, which ended in divorce in 1973), a daughter-in-law Tricia, and two grandchildren, Farah and Donovan Mervyn.