Merv Griffin, who first found fame as a talk show host and later parlayed his Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune game shows into a multimillion-dollar empire, has died at 82.

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Nancy Reagan appears with Merv Griffin on his talk show in 1986. Reagan and her late husband, former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, were Griffin's life-long friends. She called Griffin's death 'heartbreaking.' ((Craig Molenhouse/Associated Press))

Griffin died of prostate cancer, according to a statement from his family released Sunday through a spokeswoman for the Griffin Group/Merv Griffin Entertainment. In mid-July, Griffin announced he was being treated at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for a recurrence of the cancer.

"This is heartbreaking, not just for those of us who loved Merv personally, but for everyone around the world who has known Merv through his music, his television shows and his business,'' Nancy Reagan said in a statement.

She and her late husband, former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, becamelife-long friends of Griffin after the two men met while both were actors. Griffin acted asan honorary pallbearer at the former president's funeral in 2004.

"I'm dealing with deep sadness and the realization that I will never hear that wonderful laugh of his again. He meant so much to my life, and it's hard to imagine it without him," said Pat Sajak, host of Wheel of Fortune.

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Merv Griffin, shown in 2005, was named the richest Hollywood performer in history by Forbes magazine in the late 1980s. He made major real estate deals, once declaring, 'I love the gamesmanship.' ((Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press))

"I'm very upset at the news. He was a very close friend of ours, a good friend of mine and a good friend of Eva's," Zsa Zsa Gabor said of her sister, Eva Gabor, who died in 1995. Griffin and Eva Gabor were in a relationshipfor a decade before her death.

"He was just a wonderful, wonderful man."

There wasn't any immediate word on funeral plans. However, Griffin once joked: "I know what my epitaph will read on my tombstone. I have it all written out: 'I will not be right back after this message.'"

Had 25,000 guests on eponymous talk show

The media tycoon began his career as a $100 US-a-week radio singer in San Francisco.

He formed his own record label, Panda Records, and released an album, Songs by Merv Griffin. Griffin soon became a nightclub singer and even scored aNo. 1hit with I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts in 1949.

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Merv Griffin poses during a taping of his talk show in 1974. He interviewed 25,000 guests on the show, and said his favourite was actor and director Orson Welles. ((Associated Press))

He then had a brief film career in the 1950s, appearing opposite the likes of Doris Day.

From 1958 to 1962, he hosted two game shows, Play Your Hunch on NBC and ABC's Keep Talking. His smooth-talking skills got him noticed and that lead to stints substituting for Jack Paar on the talk show Tonight. Griffin was considered a candidate to replace Paar when he retired in 1962, but lost out and the program became The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

But Griffin hosted his ownhighly successful talk show beginning in 1965.During the The Merv Griffin Show, which aired for more than 20 years, Griffin interviewed about 25,000 guests.

Of all of those, Griffin said, his favourite wasactor and director Orson Welles, who appeared on the show almost 50 times before his death in 1985. Griffindescribed Welles asan "awesome guest" who was "conversant on any topic I could think of.''

Credits ex-wife with Jeopardy idea

Griffin's footprint on the entertainment world deepened when he created and produced the game shows Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.

DID YOU KNOW:
Merv Griffincomposed the theme to Jeopardy, earning about $80 million US in residuals.

Griffin credited his then wife, Julann, with coming up with the concept for Jeopardy back in 1963.

"Julann's idea was a twist on the usual question-answer format of the quiz shows of the Fifties," he wrote in his autobiography Merv.

"Her idea was to give the contestants the answer, and they had to come up with the appropriate question."

Jeopardy was born in 1964 followed 11 years later by Wheel of Fortune.By that point, Griffin and Julann had divorced.

In the late 1980s, Griffin sold the rights to them to the Columbia Pictures Television Unit for $250 million US, retaining a share of the profits.That agreement would propel Forbes magazine to name him the richest Hollywood performer in history.

Reels in real estate after retiring from TV

Griffin officially retired from Hollywood after selling off his game shows and invested his earnings in treasury bonds, stocks and real estate.

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Merv Griffin poses at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, which he had just bought, in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 1989. ((Doug Pizac/Associated Press))

He once bought a Caribbean island for $400 million US, during the 1980s.Griffin then purchased the Beverley Hilton in Hollywood for $100 million US and made a move for control of Resorts International, which operated hotels and casinos from Atlantic City to the Caribbean.

"I love the gamesmanship," he told Life magazine in 1988. "This may sound strange, but it parallels the game shows I've been involved in."

That wasn't enough for the restless entrepreneur: Griffin still yearned to keep his fingers in the entertainment world.

In 2007, his company began pre-production on a new syndicated game show Merv Griffin's Crosswords, slated to launch in September.

Griffin has a son, Tony, and is also survived by ex-wife Julann Griffin and two grandchildren.