Bob Barker, the game show host who taught us all that “The Price Is Right,” has passed away at the age of 99 after rumors of being in ill health for several years.
Barker was the host of CBS’ “The Price is Right” for 50 years, from 1972 to 2007, giving a string of audiences brand new cars and reminding us to have our pets spayed and neutered. Before being the host of the longest-running daytime game show in U.S. history, he was also the popular host of “Truth or Consequences” for nearly 20 years. He became a pop culture icon outside of the show when he made a memorable cameo in the Adam Sandler comedy “Happy Gilmore” in 1996.
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Robert William Barker was born in Darrington, Washington on December 12, 1923. He was raised on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Mission, South Dakota as a child, where he was registered as a member of the Sioux tribe. He would go on to attend Drury University on a basketball scholarship before serving in the United States Navy as a fighter pilot. He returned to college after being discharged and graduating with a degree in economics.
He got his start in media while attending college, working for the local radio station in Springfield, Missouri. He moved to Florida with his wife in tow to become a Palm Beach news editor and then finally made his way to California. He quickly received his own radio show, “The Bob Barker Show,” which he hosted for six years on the airwaves of Burbank, California.
In 1956 he was offered the chance to host NBC’s “Truth or Consequences.” The series originally started on radio in 1940, and was feared to be a dud after failing to grasp an audience on CBS or on an earlier NBC incarnation. Barker’s presence was the good luck charm, as “Truth or Consequences” would become a success.
Barker would stay as the host of “Truth or Consequences” through 1974, but in 1972 a show called “The Price is Right” was pitched to CBS. Originally, the series had a different host attached, and while CBS liked they concept they demanded the creators hire Barker. Barker was reluctant to try his hand at a new series — probably because he’d just done a failed pilot for a series called “Simon Says” — and offered to host a different show. But CBS refused to capitulate, and in September of that year Barker began hosting “The Price is Right.”
Courtesy Everett Collection
Bob Barker would become synonymous with “The Price is Right,” though the game show would not be free of controversy. The series endured a string of lawsuits starting in 1994 with allegations of sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, and discrimination. The series, known for having a bevy of beautiful women known as “Barker’s Beauties” holding merchandise, was often accused of being sexist and for failing to hire women of color. These lawsuits were often quickly settled or dismissed.
Regardless of alleged personal issues, Barker and the show were one, leading to the host’s riotous appearance in “Happy Gilmore” where he beats up Sandler. By 2006, when Barker was over 80 years old, he was ready to retire. After a 50-year career on “The Price is Right,” Bob Barker retired in June 2007 to be replaced by current host Drew Carey. Barker would make several return appearances on the series, including in 2013 to celebrate his 90th birthday. In 2009, Barker published his memoirs, “Priceless Memories.”
In his free time Barker was a fierce advocate for animals. In 1994 he started the DJ&T Foundation to help fund animal neutering programs. He testified before Congress in 1999 with regards to legislation banning elephants in traveling circus shows and to fund animal rescues throughout the United States. He’s regularly worked with PETA, who named a building after him, and the United Activists for Animal Rights.
Barker was married for 36 years to Dorothy Jo Gideon until her death in 1981.
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