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Fox says it will marry no more millionaires

Tuesday, February 22, 2000

By Sally Kalson, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Rick Rockwell's marriage isn't turning out so well -- at least for the Fox Network.

  Pittsburgh native Rick Rockwell kisses bride Darva Conger on last week's broadcast of "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?" (Associated Press/Fox Broadcasting)

Yesterday, Fox canceled any more "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?" specials after it learned Rockwell, the bridegroom in last week's widely watched broadcast, was accused of physically threatening a girlfriend nine years ago. Rockwell strongly denied the charge. Fox executives said Rockwell, a Pittsburgh-area native, had failed to disclose the information during background checks leading up to the broadcast.

"It's just not worth the risk. This is the end for this show. We are not doing another one,"said Mike Darnell, the executive vice president of Fox who invented the marry-a-millionaire concept.

Rockwell, the 1975 Fox Chapel Area High School graduate who changed his name from Richard Balkey when he moved to California to do stand-up comedy, became famous last Tuesday when 23 million viewers watched him pick Darva Conger, 34, out of a beauty-pageant-type lineup and marry her on the spot.

A Fox official confirmed yesterday that the couple had returned from their "honeymoon cruise" in the Caribbean over the weekend and that Rockwell returned to his home alone.

The whereabouts of Conger were unclear. Rockwell told San Diego's KGTV on Sunday night she was "doing well" and was not with him because "she's getting some much needed rest right now."

Conger has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for comment.

Fox said the pair intend to maintain separate residences while figuring out if they have any future together and considered themselves friends.

"Darva told us immediately after being informed about Rick's background that he had not threatened her in any way," said a Fox official.

"There was a screening process," the official continued. "We relied significantly on five weeks of personal interviews by the production company, combined with a separate private investigator's background check.

"Since Rick Rockwell had never been formally charged or convicted of any criminal activity, the security report never raised any information that seemed out of the ordinary. In the interviews that were done with Rockwell, this issue was never raised specifically and he never volunteered the information."

Back home, Rockwell defended himself. "At no time have I ever struck any of my girlfriends, ever, for any reason.

"I don't condone it under any circumstances. It goes against my core beliefs and I was not raised that way," he said. "You know, relationships have ups and downs, but getting physical for me is not an option."

Neither Rockwell nor his ex-girlfriend, Debbie Goyne of Redondo Beach, Calif., could be reached for comment yesterday.

Perry Balkey, in a telephone interview yesterday from his home in Torrance, Calif., said that his brother feels "terrible" about the publicity surrounding the abuse claims.

"They had a relationship that ended poorly, but he's not capable" of such violence, said Balkey. "I saw [Goyne] just a month ago. She has no real feelings about him. This was something that happened 10 years ago."

The restraining order surfaced on a Web site called TheSmokingGun.com, which digs up records from government and law enforcement agencies and posts them on the Internet.

In her handwritten request for protection, Goyne charged that her repeated attempts to break off an engagement had been met by Rockwell with threats to her and her roommates, damage to her car and forcible entry to her residence.

"On several occasions, [Rockwell] threw me around and slapped and hit me in my face," Goyne wrote in the request. "Recently, he said he would find me and kill me."

Goyne said in the complaint that she modeled professionally and feared Rockwell would try to mar her face "to destroy that means of professional security."

There is no evidence that Rockwell violated a six-month protective order issued in 1991, according to the Web site.

Fox's decision to abandon the program is a fitting end for this particular TV saga, if you ask Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television.

"The No. 1 thing I thought was, will we never learn? Didn't this happen back in the '50s with the quiz show scandals?" Thompson said yesterday.

The whole story highlights the potential liability issues when real human beings are used like chess pieces by TV programmers, he said.

Post-Gazette writers Barbara Vancheri, Rob Owen and Mackenzie Carpenter contributed to this story.

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