Entertainer Merv Griffin Dead At 82

He was a singer, actor, television personality and one of the most influential talk show hosts in America's history. His birth name was Mervyn, but the world knew him as Merv Griffin.

The 82-year-old died Sunday after being hospitalized earlier in the week for a recurrence of prostate cancer.

Born in San Mateo, Calif., Griffin created two of the most popular game shows in syndicated history. "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" remain in production more than two decades after they began. He even wrote the theme music for "Jeopardy!"

"Everybody knows my little song that I wrote for it, you know," he said.

Griffin parlayed that little song, the game shows and his talk show into an empire. In the mid-1980's Griffin sold his production company for a quarter of a billion dollars. It's money he invested in hotels and race horses and in still more TV shows.

Griffin's career lasted decades.

"I've been in the public eye for more than 50 years as Merv Griffin, not as somebody else's creation," he said, according to Internet Movie Database Web site. "I've never pretended to be someone I wasn't."

Beginning in the early 1960's, Griffin was a fixture on daytime TV. The 32-time Emmy nominee actually escorted 17 golden gals home for his work on "The Merv Griffin Show," according to the official website for Griffin's company, The Griffin Group.

During the shows 23 years on air, Griffin interviewed more than 25,000 guests and hosted 5,500 shows, his site said.

He schmoozed presidents from both parties, chatted with Sen. Bobby Kennedy and sat down with Martin Luther King.

It was Merv's stage, and most of all he liked to share it with comedians. He gave Richard Pryor and Jerry Seinfeld their first big breaks and got acupuncture with Don Rickles.

Griffin had fond memories of his years as a talk show host.

"It's as though history has passed through my talk show in 17 years," he said.

Before his television career began, Griffin wrote songs, sang on local radio stations and toured with Freddy Martin and His Orchestra.

In 1950, he struck gold with "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts," when it reached the number one spot on the hit parade and sold 3 million copies, according to imdb.com.

His other hits included "Wilhelmina" and "Never Been Kissed." While continuing to record albums, Griffin began a silver-screen career. He appeared in hit movies with stars like Will Rogers and Kathryn Grayson.

"If there was anything really important that people didn't know about me by now, then I would have to be world's greatest actor," Griffin joked, according to imdb.com. "Forget Brando, forget Hoffman, forget DeNiro. ... I would have to be the best."

Griffin loved the game of life. Toward the end, when he was hospitalized with cancer, he said, "I'd rather play 'Jeopardy' than live it."

"I know what my epitaph will read on my tombstone," he added. "I have it all written out: 'I will not be right back after this message.'"

Griffin said he hoped to be remembered by the many entertainers he introduced to the world.

"I would suspect that they would say, 'He brought a lot of new people who have lasted. He gave us a lot of new performers like Woody Allen and Dick Cavett and Richard Pryor and George Carlin and Lily Tomlin and Burt Reynolds, David Soul,'" Griffin said. "And they'd say, 'He wasn't afraid to gamble.'"

And despite juggling several companies and projects, Griffin said he wasn't addicted to work.

"It's not that I'm a workaholic," Griffin said. "But what's wrong with enjoying the work you do? If the definition of a workaholic is someone who really enjoys their work and looks forward to getting up in the morning and going to work, I would think that's a special kind of life."

ABC News' Imaeyen Ibanga and Carla Wohl contributed to this report.

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