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November 17, 2005

Ralph Edwards (1913-2005)

Legendary This is Your Life Host Passes

Ralph Edwards, a broadcasting legend best known as host of the popular 1950 television show This Is Your Life, died on Tuesday in his West Hollywood home. Edwards, who passed away in his sleep, was 92.

Edwards, who was born in Colorado, began his career in radio as a 16-year-old high school student in Oakland, California. Then, while pursuing a degree at UC Berkeley, he worked at the San Francisco stations KROW and KFRC.

His first major radio success came in 1940 with the popular game show Truth or Consequences, a lighthearted blend of quizzes and stunts.

In July of the following year, the Federal Communications Commission approved commercial television broadcasts beginning on July 1, 1941. NBC in New York was the first station to make the shift. Its first show, which went on the air that same month, was Truth or Consequences, with Edwards continuing as host.

When the United States entered World War II, television temporarily stalled, and although Truth or Consequences proceeded on radio, it did not return to television until 1950. That year, in one of the more remarkable media stunts in memory, Edwards declared that he would broadcast the radio show from any town that agreed to the change its name to Truth or Consequences. Hot Springs, N.M., took the offer and changed its name.

In 1956, Edwards tapped Bob Barker to succeed him as host. Meanwhile, Edwards had already launched his most enduring franchise, This Is Your Life. Like Truth or Consequences, it began or radio and eventually moved to television. Featuring a mix of celebrities and everyday folk, guests were brought on the show under a pretext, then surprised by Edwards, who would declare, “This is your life!” Friends and relatives would then be brought to the stage to reminisce about the person being highlighted.

This Is Your Life ran on NBC television from 1952 to 1961; like Truth or Consequences, it reappeared in syndicated form over the ensuing years. Earlier this month, a new version, to be hosted by Regis Philbin, was announced by ABC.

In addition to This Is Your Life, Edwards remained active as a producer, and sometimes creator, of such programs as Name That Tune, Cross Wits and several others. In the 1980s, Edwards enjoyed further success when he introduced The People's Court, which made a star of retired Judge Joseph A. Wapner.

Beyond television, Edwards appeared in such feature films as Seven Days Leave, Radio Stars on Parade, Beat the Band and I’ll Cry Tomorrow.

Edwards is survived a son, Gary, who worked with him; and two daughters, Christine and Laurie. Edwards’ wife Barbara, to whom he was married for 53 years, died in 1993.

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