The brotherhood of game-show hosts lost a key personality Monday when Peter Tomarken, ringmaster of the 1980s hit Press Your Luck, was killed along with his wife and two others when a plane he was piloting went down off the coast of Los Angeles Monday.
Tomarken, 63, and his wife, Kathleen, 41, had volunteered their services for a medical flight that was picking up a patient in San Diego for transfer to UCLA Medical Center. Moments after its 9:36 a.m. takeoff from Santa Monica Municipal Airport, the 1973 Beechcraft 36 plunged into the Pacific Ocean.
A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said that Tomarken reported engine trouble minutes after takeoff. The plane turned around to head back to the airport and then crashed. A search party was on the lookout for an unidentified third passenger, who is presumed dead, authorities said.
Tomarken hosted CBS' Press Your Luck, a combination trivia and board game, from 1983 until 1986. The show is best remembered for spawning the national catchphrase "No whammies!" (referring to the spaces on the board that took away contestants' winnings--à la "Bankrupt" spaces on Wheel of Fortune). Before the age of daily Law & Order: SVU marathons, repeats of Press Your Luck aired on USA off and on between 1987 and 1995.
"Peter was Press Your Luck," a statement on the Game Show Central Website said. "His style and wit and ability to lead made Press Your Luck the exciting show that is immortalized to this day...Game show fans will have a tough time saying goodbye to a face that was part of their lives for over 25 years."
Tomarken began his career as an editor for the high-fashion bible Women's Wear Daily before moving to California to work in advertising. He eventually started his own ad agency, but all the time spent behind and in front of the camera making commercials led him to acting.
After appearing in a few failed TV pilots, Tomarken got a gig in 1983 hosting the game show Hit Man. NBC put out its own hit on the show after 13 weeks. But shortly afterward, Tomarken was offered Press Your Luck, cementing his status in pop culture.
When all of the show's luck had been pressed, Tomarken went on to host the short-lived Bargain Hunters for ABC, a not so popular spinoff of The Price Is Right. In 1988 he hosted Wipeout, where one wrong answer led to a financial--you guessed it--wipeout.
The Game Show Network, where retro episodes of Family Feud and the Regis years of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? will live forever, gave Tomarken's celebrity a boost in the mid-'90s when it tapped him to host a live nightly game called Decades.
Even cheery '80s game shows have their Quiz Show-style scandals. Tomarken hosted a documentary for GSN in 2003 called Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal, about contestant Michael Larson, who in 1984 figured out a way to beat the board. He won more than $100,000 by memorizing the movement patterns of the spinner that was used to direct players around the game board. Sounds tedious, but it worked.
GSN, which has been running repeats of Press Your Luck since 2001, will rerun Big Bucks on Tuesday and has scheduled an all-day Luck marathon for Sunday.
"On behalf of game-show fans and GSN, we mourn the loss of a wonderful person and one of the great game-show hosts of all time," GSN president and CEO Rich Cronin said in a statement.
Tomarken is survived by a son and twin daughters from his first marriage.