Mr. Griffin's career began in 1948 when he was hired by Freddy Martin to join Martin's band at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles. The group had a smash hit in 1949 with the novelty song "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Cocoanuts." That success led to a contract with Warner Bros.; Griffin appeared in a few films — including "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" and "So This Is Love" — but he eventually asked to be let out of his contract.
Mr. Griffin's one Broadway credit was the 1955 revival of Finian's Rainbow at City Center, which cast him as Woody Mahoney.
Before "The Merv Griffin Show" debuted in 1965, Mr. Griffin hosted a CBS radio music show and a few TV game shows, including "Play Your Hunch." He also substituted for Jack Paar on "The Tonight Show" several times.
Though his Broadway career was brief, Mr. Griffin was a champion of the theatre, especially during his years as the host of "The Merv Griffin Show." He welcomed a slew of Broadway stars during his talk-show reign; he was especially fond of musical theatre legend Ethel Merman. The syndicated program was taped in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and in New York at the Little Theatre and, from 1969-1970, at the Cort Theatre.
In a recent interview Mr. Griffin said that his ability to listen to his guests contributed to his talk-show success: "If the host is sitting there thinking about his next joke," he said, "he isn't listening." Mr. Griffin also created two game shows that continue to this day: In 1964, after a suggestion from his then-wife Julann, he created a show where contestants are given the answers rather than the questions: "Jeopardy" (he also penned the theme music for that long-running program). Mr. Griffin also created the highly successful "Wheel of Fortune," which began in 1975.
In his later years, Mr. Griffin became a billionaire thanks to his real-estate investments. At one point he was the owner of 17 hotels and was listed several times on Forbes' list of the richest Americans.
Mervyn Edward Griffin Jr. was born July 6, 1925, in San Mateo, CA. He attended San Mateo Junior College and the University of San Francisco; he quit the latter to become a vocalist for the San Francisco radio station KFRC.
In a statement Griffin's son, Tony Griffin, said, "My father was a visionary. He loved business and continued his many projects and holdings even while hospitalized. We take solace in knowing that until the end he had his two favorites by his side — his family and his work. His legacy will be honored through the continuing operations of The Griffin Group under its current leadership and by the millions of lives he continues to affect through entertainment."
Mr. Griffin is survived by son Tony, his daughter-in-law Tricia and his grandchildren Farah and Donovan Mervyn.
A by-invitation-only funeral mass will be held at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, CA. In lieu of flowers Mr. Griffin's family asks donations be made to the Young Musicians Foundation, for which Griffin served as Chairman of the Board.