Game show icon Bob Barker, who hosted The Price Is Right for more than three decades, has died aged 99.
Barker’s Publicist, Roger Neal, broke the news in a statement earlier today (August 28): “It is with profound sadness that we announce that the World’s Greatest MC who ever lived, Bob Barker, has left us,” publicist Roger Neal said in a statement Saturday.
When Barker was hired to host The Price Is Right in 1972, the show had already been dropped from two networks before being picked up by CBS. Little did they know that Barker’s charm and deadpan delivery would propel the game show to new heights to become one of the longest-running TV shows ever, and it continues to this day, 15 years after Barker handed over the reins to Drew Carey.
Barker spent nearly half a century on American TV screens as the host of two incredibly popular shows, first taking over on Truth or Consequences in 1956 and then hosting The Price is Right from 1972 until he retired in 2007.
Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, told NBC News: “From the black and white era of television right up to the new century, Bob Barker had a real presence on two really big shows… You’ve got some game shows where the host just stands behind a podium, but Barker really interacted with regular people, and he was particularly good at it.”
Robert William Barker was born in Darrington, Washington, on December 12, 1923; at age six, he moved to the Rosebud Sioux Indian reservation in Mission, South Dakota, with his mother after his father Byron, a foreman on the electrical highline through Washington State, died in a workplace accident. Bob was one-eighth Sioux and once said: “I’ve always bragged about being part Indian because they are a people to be proud of.”
He attended school on the reservation, where his mother worked as a teacher until she remarried, and the family moved to Missouri.
At age 15, Bob would meet “The love of his life” – Dorothy Jo Gideon. He asked her if she wanted to go to an Ella Fitzgerald concert, and the rest is history. The pair would marry in 1945 while Bob was home on leave from the Navy, and the couple would remain together until Dorothy’s death in 1981, six months after she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Speaking to People in 1999, Barker said he would never marry again and that “Dorothy Jo was the love of my life.” Adding, “We fell in love as kids, and we stayed in love.”
The Bob Barker Show
After a two-year stint in the Navy Reserves from 1943 to 1945, Barker returned to Missouri, where he attended Drury College (now Drury University) and graduated with a degree in economics.
While studying at Drury, Barker landed his first broadcasting job working for KTTS-FM Radio in Springfield. After college, he moved to Florida after landing a job as a news editor and announcer at WWPG 1340 AM in Palm Beach.
In 1950, he moved to California to star in his own radio program, The Bob Barker Show, which ran until 1956. It was while Barker was hosting an audience-participation show on KNX (AM) in Los Angeles when producer Ralph Edwards, who was looking for a host to replace Jack Bailey on the daytime version of Truth or Consequences, happened to be listening and liked Barker’s voice and delivery.
Barker joined Truth or Consequences in 1956 and would be its host until the show ended 18 years later.
When he wasn’t giving away brand-new cars, Bob was crowning pageant winners, and in 1967, Bob began a 20-year run as the emcee of the Miss Universe and Miss America pageants.
From 1969 until the early 90s, Barker hosted the New Year’s Day Tournament of Roses Parade, in 1985, Barker and the team at CBS were nominated for a daytime Emmy for their coverage of the annual parade.
The Price of Scandal
Barker’s squeaky clean image took a hit in 1994, after former The Price Is Right model Dian Parkinson, who had resigned from the show the year before after 19 years, accused Barker of Sexual harassment and said he had threatened to fire her if she didn’t accept his demands. Parkinson dropped the suit in 1995, stating that it had become too costly and the stress from the ordeal had taken a toll on her health.
Then, in 1995, another former The Price is Right model, Holly Hallstrom, filed a suit against Barker, alleging that she had been fired because Barker had requested that she give false information to the media about Parkinson’s lawsuit a year before, and she refused. Barker countersued for slander. Hallstrom would later receive a settlement in 2005.
Despite the scandal, Barker received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys in 1999.
Fur Is Not a Prize
Barker was a longtime animal rights activist, signing off each episode of The Price Is Right from 1982, saying: “This is Bob Barker reminding you to help control the pet population — have your pets spayed or neutered.”
While appearing on CBS This Morning in 2013, Barker reminisced about how after he was made to give away a fur coat on his first episode as host of The Price is Right, Barker went to the show’s producer, Mark Goodson, and told him he “didn’t want to be on the stage with these fur coats, so he took fur coats off our show.”
However, when Barker requested furs no longer be given as prizes at the 1987 Miss USA pageant, he quit the show after the producers refused.
In 1995, Barker started the DJ&T Foundation, named after his late wife and her mother; the charity has contributed millions of dollars to pet neutering programs and provided funds for animal rescue centers and parks across the US.
Barker has also donated several million dollars to various law schools, including the University of Virginia, Harvard, Georgetown, Duke, Northwestern, and Stanford, to support the study of animal rights.
MY Bob Barker
In 2010, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society announced it had secretly purchased and outfitted a ship to intercept Japanese whaling operations with $5 million provided by Barker. The MY Bob Barker then helped discover the location of Japanese whaling operations.
Barker also participated in several PETA public service announcements and, in 2010, donated $2.5 million towards the purchase of office space for the animal rights organization in Los Angeles. The Bob Barker Building opened in 2012.
Barker’s longtime companion Nancy Burnet, who had been friends with Barker for 40 years after the pair met in 1983 and bonded over a mutual passion for animal rights, said in a statement to the press that she was “so proud of the trailblazing work Barker [and I] did together to expose the cruelty to animals in the entertainment industry and including working to improve the plight of abused and exploited animals in the United States and internationally.” She added, “He will be missed.”
In 2013, Barker donated $1 million to move three captive elephants from the Toronto Zoo to a sanctuary in California.
After retiring from the show, Barker made three final appearances on The Price is Right. The first was in April 2009, when he appeared in the showcase round at the end of the show to promote his autobiography, Priceless Memories.
Barker also returned to the show to celebrate his 90th birthday on December 12, 2013. Barker’s last appearance in 2015 was part of an April Fools’ Day gag, which saw Barker take Drew Carey’s place for the intro, the first bid and pricing game before handing hosting duties back to Carey.
“People ask me, ‘What do you miss most about ‘Price Is Right?’” Barker told Parade Magazine in 2013. “And I say, ‘The money.’ But that is not altogether true. I miss the people, too.”