RAY COMBS SEEMED THE IDEAL host for The New Family Feud—bright, cheerful and perfectly in tune with the pinball rhythms of TV game shows. Where Combs faltered was in adjusting to life after his six-year Feud run ended in early 1994. That July, Combs was in a car accident that left him with permanently painful spinal disk injuries. Financial problems—caused in part by the failure of two comedy clubs he owned in his native Ohio—soon followed, and the bank foreclosed on his former home in Hamilton, Ohio, in September 1995, just as his 18-year marriage was crumbling. Recently, Combs seemed to a friend, Hamilton police detective Gary Roberts, "positive that his career would pick up again"—and he did land a gig on Family Challenge, a cable game show. But during a taping last month he seemed shaken over the breakup of his marriage. Five days later, on June 1, he was admitted to the psychiatric ward of Glendale Adventist hospital in California. Early the next morning, Combs, 40, fashioned a noose from his hospital sheets and hanged himself in a closet.

Though he spent two years as a Mormon missionary in Arizona, Combs wanted to be a comic, and in his mid-208 he went to L.A. to work the clubs. Then in 1986 he did a standup spot on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and got a standing ovation. Shortly afterward he had an offer to host Feud. But the show never really took off, and in 1994 the producers persuaded its original host, Richard Dawson, to return. "Losing Family Feud was a huge blow because it became his world," says the show's director, Marc Breslow.

By last year, Combs realized he was losing his wife too. The couple had filed for divorce in 1995 but reconciled. Recently, however, they refiled. On June 1, a friend of Combs's called police in Glendale, where Combs was living with wife Debbie and their six children, who range from kindergartners to teens. Sgt. Rick Young says the friend described Combs as "agitated and very upset" about the disintegration of his marriage. When police arrived, they found the house in disarray, and Combs alone, bleeding from bashing his head against a wall. "He needed help," says Young. Hairdresser Larry St. George, an old friend, thinks Combs never recovered from the realization that he wouldn't be the next Johnny Carson. "I guess he just climbed to the top and looked down," he says. "Then he realized there was no other way to go."