Author Charles Van Doren, who will forever be associated with one of the biggest scandals in U.S. history, has died of natural causes at 93.
Van Doren was an obscure college professor in 1956 when he became a contestant on the television quiz show Twenty-One. The show offered big cash prizes for answering very difficult multipart questions.
During 14 weeks on Twenty-One, Van Doren defeated opponent after opponent, winning $129,000 before finally losing.
Tall, handsome and self-effacing, Van Doren became a national hero, appearing on magazine covers, television shows and radio programs, and receiving huge amounts of fan mail and even marriage proposals.
But what the audience did not know was that Twenty-One was a rigged show. Van Doren and nearly every other contestant were given the questions and answers ahead of each broadcast and coached on how to give answers in a hesitant and entertaining manner to build suspense and tension.
When the cheating was revealed in 1958, Van Doren strongly denied his appearances were scripted until he confessed all in a dramatic appearance before Congress, which was investigating the matter.
The humiliated and ashamed Van Doren was fired from his teaching job, dropped by the television networks, and became the punch line of jokes.
Van Doren and dozens of other contestants and producers were convicted of lying before a grand jury and were given suspended sentences.
Van Doren returned to private life, living in a small New England village, writing books and articles for the Encyclopedia Britannica, and refusing all interviews and big money to tell his story.
He never publicly talked about the scandal until the 1994 film Quiz Show put him back in an unwanted spotlight.
Van Doren finally broke his silence in a 2008 New Yorker magazine article, calling his participation in the TV fraud “foolish, naive, prideful and avaricious.”