The erstwhile and nigh legendary game show host Tom Kennedy – who regularly implored viewers to “Name That Tune” – has passed away, slipping gently into that good night at his home in Oxnard, California. His death came on October 7 and while he lived to see the ripe old age of 93, a large contingent of fans that grew up with Kennedy on such classic game shows as Dr. I.Q. and You Don’t Say would argue that it was not nearly enough time for the well-liked and respected television personality.
Tom Kennedy began life on February 26, 1927 as one James Edward Narz in Louisville, Kentucky. Narz gave way to the smoother sounding “Tom Kennedy” after a lunch with his agent who argued in favor of the name change. The change in moniker, in part, had to do with Kennedy’s older brother John Lawrence Narz Jr. who was a renowned radio personality and television host in his own right. The two brothers decided that they wanted to avoid the so-called perceived conflict of interests of having two announcers with the same last name advertising for competing products. Thus was born American pop legend Tom Kennedy in 1957.
Speaking of brothers and family, Tom Kennedy and John Lawrence Narz Jr. was anything but Cain and Abel and, in fact, were always supportive of one another. Once Kennedy saw how his brother was faring in the entertainment industry, he beat it for the Hollywood of the 1940s (’47 to be precise) with the end goal being a career for himself in the broadcasting world. Kennedy overshot that modest goal and, over the course of many decades, became a television legend, hosting such quirky and classic game shows as Split Second, The Big Game, Break the Bank and a nighttime version of The Price Is Right. In an era where door to door salesmen were routinely turned away by harried housewives and bromide popping business men, Kennedy was always welcomed by Americans into their households, regardless of what game show wares he might be peddling. The man became an institution unto himself and, on a slightly personal note from this former latchkey kid, a sort of surrogate uncle to an army of after-school kids who fought the battle of TV dinners and largely absent parents. His was a reassuring and comforting presence, always there day in and day out, offering a litany of consolation prizes to a bevy of almost-rans. Somehow, to this child of the 1970s at least, Tom Kennedy even made the act of losing a heated game of Password Plus as something noble and not at all bad, reassuring sports challenged children everywhere that there was no shame in giving up the fight as long as you tried your hardest. It’s a lesson I’ve always taken with me.
In a statement on Facebook, his longtime friend Steve Beverly said that Kennedy “had not been well in recent months but remained in communication with his family and close friends.” And family and friends was something extremely important to the amiable Kennedy: He remained happily married to his college sweetheart Betty Gevedon for 59 years, a loving union that produced something infinitely better than any game show – Four children, a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter, Abigail.
“Name That Tune” was a phrase intoned by Tom Kennedy day in and day out to avid game show followers. Well Tom, today I’m naming that tune as something in D minor, the very key that no less of a pop culture institution as Nigel Tufnel proclaimed as being “the saddest of all keys.” Rest easy Mr. Kennedy: You’ve more than earned it.