Bob Barker, the energetic game show legend who for more than 50 years made every day entertaining as host of Truth or Consequences and The Price Is Right, has died. He was 99.
Barker, who also was celebrated for his animal-rights activism and for one hilarious brawl with Adam Sandler in the 1996 golf comedy Happy Gilmore, died Saturday morning of natural causes in his longtime Hollywood Hills home, his representative, Roger Neal, told The Hollywood Reporter.
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“It is with profound sadness that we announce that the World’s Greatest MC who ever lived, Bob Barker, has left us,” Neal said in a statement.
After a decade toiling on the radio, Barker was named host of the nationally televised Truth or Consequences in December 1956 and stayed with that program through 1975. He joined a revival of The Price Is Right in September 1972 and remained the host there until June 2007, breaking Tonight Show host Johnny Carson’s record for continuous performances on the same network TV program.
On both audience-participation shows (on Truth or Consequences, contestants were asked a question, and if they didn’t have the right answer, they had to perform a zany stunt), Barker mastered the art of interviewing and coaxing the fun out of regular folks.
“So many hosts will ask a question of a contestant and pay no attention because they’re so busy thinking about what they, the host, will say next,” he said in a 2003 interview with the St. Petersburg Times. “If you ask a question or make a remark and listen, often that contestant will provide you with a little gem you can work with.”
Barker collected 15 Emmy Awards, including 12 for hosting. He was presented a Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999 and was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame five years later.
The Guinness World Records named him TV’s Most Durable Performer as well as the Most Generous Host in Television History, having doled out, by its estimation, more than $200 million worth of prizes.
In 1987, Barker stopped coloring his gray hair because of the animal products used in dyes and chastised the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, which he hosted, for their use of furs.
Upon arriving as host of the 1987 Miss USA Pageant, he declined to go on after learning that the contestants would be wearing animal skins. When fake furs were substituted, it generated huge publicity for animal rights activists.
Barker later severed ties with both pageants and, soon, he was closing each edition of The Price Is Right with the line, “Have your pets spayed and neutered.” He donated a total of $3.1 million to his alma mater Drury College/University to establish and support the school’s interdisciplinary Animal Studies Program.
In a statement, PETA noted that Barker was “one of the first stars to go vegetarian more than 30 years ago, urged families to stay away from SeaWorld, demanded the closure of cruel bear pits masquerading as tourist attractions, implored Hollywood to take action to protect animals used in film and TV and, as a Navy veteran, called for the end of military medical drills on live animals.
“His generous donation allowed PETA to open its West Coast headquarters, the Bob Barker Building, in 2012, and it stands as a testament to his legacy and profound commitment to making the world a kinder place. To us — and to so many animals around the world — Bob will always be a national animal rights treasure.”
Robert Barker was born on Dec. 12, 1923, in Darrington, Washington, but raised on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where his mother, Tillie, was a teacher. After his father died, he and his mom moved to Springfield, Missouri, where he attended high school and then Drury on a basketball scholarship, graduating in 1947. He trained as a Navy fighter pilot during World War II.
Following his discharge, Barker returned to Springfield, working at radio station KTTS while he completed his degree in economics. He read news and sports, and when one staffer failed to show up at the last minute, did his first audience-participation show.
Afterward, “My wife [Dorothy Jo] told me, ‘You did that better than you’ve done anything else,” Barker recalled in a 2000 interview for the Television Academy Foundation’s The Interviews website. He had found his calling.
“I was doing shows from grocery markets, drug stores, from movie theaters, from my own little studio,” he said. “I did man on the street shows when you are out on the street with a hand mic — live — and you are just talking with whomever comes along. And you have to make it entertaining.”
After spending time at a Florida station, Barker moved to Los Angeles and was hosting The Bob Barker Show on the radio when Ralph Edwards, the creator and original host of Truth or Consequences, heard him in his car while driving his daughters to an ice-skating lesson.
Edwards was looking for a host, and Barker, then 32, got an audition. He performed before 11 execs and later learned he got just one vote — “but I got the right one, from Ralph Edwards,” he said.
Edwards called Barker at five minutes past noon on Dec. 21, 1956, and told him he had the job. (For years, he and Edwards had lunch on that date and toasted their good fortune at 12:05 p.m.)
“It’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me professionally and the greatest thing that ever will,” he said. Truth or Consequences became the No. 1 show on daytime television and then went on five times a week in syndication.
In 1970, Barker gave future Family Feud host Richard Dawson his first game-show job (on Lucky Pair).
While he was doing Truth for nighttime viewing, Barker accepted producer Mark Goodson’s offer to host a daytime show, a new version of The Price Is Right. He said he would have asked for more money had he known that CBS daytime head Bud Grant would not have bought the show unless Barker was on board.
In 1998, upon the taping of the 5,000th episode of The Price Is Right, CBS dedicated Stage 33 at CBS Television City as the Bob Barker Studio.
Barker, who at age 50 began studying karate with Chuck Norris, gained a new generation of fans when he exchanged blows with Sandler’s hockey-player character, his partner in a golf tournament, in Happy Gilmore. (“The price is wrong, bitch,” Happy says after he slugs the game show host.)
“Nobody had heard of Adam Sandler until I beat him up,” Barker joked. They won the 1996 MTV Award for best fight, beating out the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Wrote Sandler on Saturday: “The man. The myth. The best. Such a sweet funny guy to hang out with. Loved talking to him. Loved laughing with him. Loved him kicking the crap out of me. He will be missed by everyone I know! Heartbreaking day. Love to Bob always and his family! Thanks for all you gave us!”
Outside of game shows, Barker flirted with a young lass on Bonanza in 1960; contributed his voice to Family Guy and Futurama; played Mel Harris’ father on the NBC drama Something So Right; and appeared as himself on episodes of The Nanny, Yes, Dear and How I Met Your Mother.
Dorothy Jo, whom he married in 1945, died of lung cancer in 1981. Barker never remarried but had a relationship with Dian Parkinson, a Price Is Right model, from 1989-91. She sued him and the program for sexual harassment (she dropped that suit) and wrongful termination (a judge dismissed that one). Several other former models also sued Barker and the show.
Survivors include his half-brother, Kent; half-nephews Robert and Chip; and half-niece Vickie.
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