Born in Hamilton, Ohio, Combs ascended into the world of comedy after moving to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s and doing audience warmups for sitcoms. Johnny Carson noticed this and invited him to perform on The Tonight Show in 1986; the audience gave him a standing ovation his first time on stage.
Combs was best known for hosting the game show Family Feud. In 1988 veteran game show producer Mark Goodson selected Combs to host a new version of Feud, which was to air concurrently on CBS and in syndication. CBS heavily promoted Combs and the new Feud in the summer of 1988, with Combs making guest appearances on two other CBS game shows -- Card Sharks and The Price is Right -- to promote the show.
Audiences initially accepted Combs' performance on Family Feud despite the inevitable comparisons to longtime host Richard Dawson. By 1993, however, the show's ratings were declining. CBS canceled the daytime version that year, and the syndicated version was also in danger of cancellation. Jonathan Goodson -- who became chairman of Mark Goodson Productions after his father's death a year earlier -- then made the decision to replace Combs with the man he replaced, Richard Dawson. Combs walked out of the CBS studios before the end of his last episode in 1994.
Combs' dismissal from Feud was one of many events that ultimately led to his suicide by hanging in 1996. An automobile accident in 1994 nearly paralyzed him, while Combs went through financial problems after a comedy club he owned in Cincinnati, Ohio, went out of business. He had also separated from his longtime wife, Debbie, with whom he had six children. Several attempts to make it back into television -- most notably as the host of the cable TV game show Family Challenge in 1995 -- failed. Combs was found dead in a Glendale, California, hospital on June 2, 1996.