Bob Barker, the affable television icon and animal rights activist who hosted The Price Is Right for more than three decades, died Saturday. He was 99.
A fixture on American TV screens for decades, Barker was host of the iconic CBS game show from 1972 to 2007—memorably reminding viewers at the end of each episode to get their pets spayed or neutered. The program has become the longest-running game show in North America.
Barker came to The Price is Right in 1972, slightly before his stint as the host of the game show Truth or Consequences ended. The show was a modern reboot of an earlier version of The Price Is Right, which previously ended in 1965. Well-suited to the daytime game show, Barker eventually became synonymous with the program and a fixture of pop culture.
As The Price Is Right host, Barker became the subject of stories that gained national relevance. In 1987, he famously had to get permission from top producers to stop dyeing his hair. Ultimately, Barker's natural grey/white hair color made him even more popular. “I went on vacation and I just let it go,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. “When I came home the people on the show said, ‘You look better this way than you do with it dyed or tinted. Why don’t you just leave it this way?’”
Despite his wholesome public image, Barker was also at the center of a few controversies during his 35 years on The Price Is Right. Multiple women filed lawsuits against Barker; the show's production company was also sued on several occasions, not all during Barker's tenure, by models and staff members. One of the most high-profile lawsuits against Barker came in 1994 from the model Dian Parkinson, who alleged that Barker forced her to have sex with him so she could keep her job as one of "Barker's Beauties"—a term used to describe the models who showcased the prizes on The Price Is Right. She also claimed that she was later wrongfully terminated. Barker, who became a widower in 1981, at first denied her claim but later said he and Parkinson had a consensual sexual relationship for years. Parkinson later dropped the lawsuit.
Barker will also be remembered for his fervent love of animals, which he intertwined with The Price Is Right. He became famous for ending each show with a message to the audience, “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.” Offscreen, he was an ardent animal rights activist who spoke out against animal abuse, appearing in several campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and supporting organizations like the United Activists for Animal Rights. In 1988, he quit as host of the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants after more than 20 years over the show's use of fur coats. In 1995, Barker established the DJ&T Foundation, which helps to fund spay and neuter clinics in an effort to curb animal overpopulation.
Barker developed the genial persona he was known for in a broadcasting career that began in radio. Born in Darrington, Wash., he grew up in Mission, S.D., spending his early childhood on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. In his 2009 autobiography, Priceless Memories, Barker wrote that he was part Sioux.
After his father died in 1930, his mother remarried and moved the family to Springfield, Mo., where Barker went to high school. Barker later entered Drury University on a basketball scholarship, but left after World War II broke out. He joined the U.S. Navy to become a fighter pilot. However, he never saw combat because the war ended before he could be assigned to a seagoing squadron.
Barker married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Jo Gideon, in 1945, and went back to college after the war. As he told the Television Academy in a lengthy interview about his life, Barker applied for a job at a local Missouri radio station after hearing that the manager there had an affinity for airplanes. Barker hoped that his training as a fighter pilot would pique the manager's interest. It worked; his first job in radio involved writing local news and announcing sportscasts for KTTS-FM radio in Springfield. Later, he worked in radio at stations in Florida before eventually landing in California, where he hosted his own program, The Bob Barker Show, from 1950 to 1956.
Television came into Barker’s life in the late 1950s, when he became host of his first game show, Truth or Consequences, which had aired on NBC since 1940. As the title indicates, contestants had to answer questions correctly or pay “consequences”—which usually involved elaborate stunts. Barker hosted the show until 1974, even as it coincided with the dawn of The Price Is Right. He became known for his sign-off on the show: “Bob Barker saying goodbye, and hoping all your consequences are happy ones.”
But it was Barker's time as The Price Is Right host that made him an American cultural figure—which resulted in a famous cameo in the Adam Sandler comedy Happy Gilmore.
Following his retirement from The Price Is Right in 2007, Barker focused on his animal rights activism and still made some surprise appearances on TV. In 2015, he returned to The Price Is Right as an April Fool's joke, thrilling audiences.
"I'm here because I was selected by The Price is Right to be their April fool," Barker said at the time. "I know the world is full of fools, but I am a carefully selected fool, and it is a pleasure to be with you."
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