Photo by Linda Bisset

Photo by Linda Bisset

It’s been two years since the death of entertainment magnate, Merv Griffin. Famous for hosting The Merv Griffin Show and creating Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, Griffin certainly made his mark on the world and he died a billionaire in 2007. How did he do it? It was probably handed to him, right? Not exactly.

Merv Griffin, a Depression baby, had a childhood that sharply contrasted the fame and fortune he amassed later in life. Born into an extremely poor Irish family in the mid-1920s, young Merv played the organ at church and sold magazines door-to-door in order to earn extra money. A media entrepreneur at heart, Griffin started his first newspaper, The Whispering Winds, at age 7, which dispensed neighborhood news and gossip to families living in his community. Eventually he turned his passion into a career in show business.

Though it may seem like everything he touched turned to gold, life was not always so easy for Griffin. Before attempting a singing career at age 19, he was drafted to serve in WWII but was deemed not acceptable for military service because he was overweight and had a heart murmur. His appearance continued to work against him when he broke into singing; his radio fans were dismayed when they saw him on television. Embarrassed by his appearance, Griffin became motivated to lose weight and change his image. What followed were a handful of gigs that eventually earned him enough money to start a record label, Panda Records.

Though his career gained momentum, his success wasn’t always smooth sailing: he faced censorship issues with The Merv Griffin Show, Jeopardy! was cancelled in the mid-70s, he faced sexual harassment lawsuits from male employees that raised questions about his sexuality and, in his later years, he battled prostate cancer.

The universe certainly conspired with Griffin as he took chances on himself and his dreams. When he retired and sold Merv Griffin Enterprises, Forbes named him the richest Hollywood performer in history. Despite the challenges he faced, he was a man doing what he loved and he worked up until the very end of his life, dying while giving his staff notes for a new game show.

“And  now…here I come.” -Merv Griffin, announcing himself on The Merv Griffin Show