Struggles and Tragic Death of 'Family Feud' Host Ray Combs

Ray Combs, a funny man by trade, never got over his professional and personal blows that led to his death two years after he stopped hosting “Family Feud.”

After Ray’s graduation from Garfield High School in Hamilton in 1974, he knew he wanted to be a comic full time. But few people made successful vocations from being comedians, and in 1979, Ray decided to write David Letterman for advice.

Ray Combs from the TV series Family Feud .  Source: Wikimedia.

Ray Combs from the TV series Family Feud . Source: Wikimedia.

THE LEAP OF FAITH

In response, Ray received words of encouragement, and together with his drive towards comedy, he took the leap in 1982.

“What I’m about to do is almost impossible. But you can’t stop me, no one can,” Ray told his wife, Debbie. He quit his job as a furniture salesman in Indianapolis, they packed up and left for Los Angeles so he could pursue his career in comedy.

By 1984, Ray got placed as the fifth best comedian among 200 hopefuls during a Los Angeles standup competition, and in 1986, his career looked up when he landed a comedy spot with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”

THE BEGINNING OF A TROUBLED TIME

The same year, Ray became the host of “Family Feud” until 1994 when producers brought back the show’s original host, Richard Dawson. A move that devastated Ray, as the show’s director, Marc Breslow said, “Losing Family Feud was a huge blow because it became his world.”

In July 1994, Ray also got seriously injured during a car accident on a highway north of Los Angeles. It left him temporarily paralyzed and with permanent pain from spinal disk injuries.

Shortly after, financial woes added to his troubles as two of his Ohio comedy clubs failed, which ended with his Hamilton, Ohio, home being foreclosed on in September 1995.

When his 18-year marriage to Debbie also ended on the rocks in 1995, the couple briefly reconciled before they refiled for divorce. On June 1, 1996, Ray’s circumstances got the better of him.

A friend called Glendale police, the area where Ray and Debbie lived with their six children and reported that an “agitated and very upset” Ray had been tearing up the inside of the house. When police arrived, they found Ray bleeding from bashing his head against a wall. According to his old friend, Larry St. George, Ray never recovered from his career that came to an abrupt halt after “Family Feud.”

“I guess he just climbed to the top and looked down. Then he realized there was no other way to go,” Larry told PEOPLE in 1996.

THE DAY BEFORE HIS DEATH

Forty years old at the time, Ray then got admitted to the psychiatric ward of Glendale Adventist hospital in California. However, early the next morning on June 2, staff found Ray dead after he made a noose from bed sheets and hanged himself in a closet.

Police found no suicide note, and Los Angeles County Health officials launched an investigation into his suicide, as the bar in the closet wasn’t supposed to be able to support his weight, and being under a 72-hour psychiatric watch; Ray shouldn’t have had access to anything harmful.

Ray will always be remembered for his six years on “Family Feud,” which even in 2019, is still going strong. In a related story, comedian Chris Kattan’s reign on “Family Feud” got cut short in March 2019.

The country singer, Scotty McCreery and his wife, Gabi came up against the “Saturday Night Live” comedian and gave awesome answers that got them the win on “Celebrity Family Feud.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

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