Bob Barker, the longtime “Price is Right” host who presided over the longest-running daytime game show in North American television history from 1972 to 2007, died Saturday at the age of 99.
Barker died at about 8 a.m. Saturday of natural causes in his longtime Hollywood Hills home, according to Roger Neal, who made the announcement on behalf of Nancy Burnet, Barker’s longtime friend and the co-executor of his estate.
One of the most iconic figures in television history, Barker once held the record for hosting the most game show episodes with 6,828, before that mark was broken in 2014 by “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek.
“It is with profound sadness that we announce that the World’s Greatest MC who ever lived, Bob Barker has left us,” Neal said.
Barker was also known for his prolific philanthropy and activism in support of animal rights. In 2012, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals named a building after him at the group’s Los Angeles headquarters at 2154 Sunset Blvd.
“I am 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,” Burnet said. “We were great friends over these 40 yrs. he will be missed.”
Barker was born in 1923 in Darrington, Washington, and spent most of his youth on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Mission, South Dakota. He attended Drury College in Springfield, Missouri, on a basketball scholarship and joined the U.S. Navy Reserve in 1943 during World War II, although he did not see active duty.
In 1950, he moved to Southern California to pursue a career in broadcasting. His early radio work included “The Bob Barker Show” and an audience-participation show on KNX-AM in Los Angeles, before producer Ralph Edwards tapped him to host “Truth or Consequences” in 1956.
Barker’s version of “The Price is Right” was actually a revival of a show that ran originally from 1956-65 with Bill Cullen as host. He kicked off his long tenure as the face of the CBS show in 1972, and it quickly became a staple of the TV landscape and part of the daily routine for millions of Americans.
Contestants were summoned from the audience by announcer Johnny Olson (and later Rod Roddy), who told them to “Come on Down!” A panel of four audience members would then bid on a prize, with the winner invited to step onto the stage with Barker and complete for a chance at the climactic “Showcase Showdowns,” in which they could win a bevy of prizes that included vacations, new cars and expensive household gadgets.
The games themselves featured creative ways for guests to guess the prices of common supermarket items, giving the program an essential connection to the concerns of its working- and middle-class viewers. Generations of Americans grew up knowing someone in their family or circle of friends who attended a taping of the show, or — hopefully — had a chance to compete on it.
Barker excelled at putting the program’s often giddy contestants at ease. He would sometimes kid them gently, but never cruelly. He would try his best to guide them away from unwise guesses without violating the host’s neutrality, and he exulted in their triumphs when they won big.
His final episode as “Price is Right” host aired June 15, 2007. He was replaced by Drew Carey, who continues to host the show.
Barker won 19 daytime Emmys during his long career, five for outstanding game show host.
Barker’s tenure at “The Price is Right” was not without controversy. The program featured a cast of scantily clad models who helped present the prizes on stage — dubbed “Barker’s Beauties.” Over the years, Barker and the show were the subjects of several sexual harassment and wrongful termination complaints from some of the models.
Barker was also a ubiquitous presence at the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants, serving as host from 1967 to 1987. In 1988, he quit his longtime gig hosting the Miss Universe Pageant after producers refused to stop giving away a fur coast as a prize.
In 1996, he reached a new level of fame with younger audiences thanks to his appearance in the Adam Sandler comedy “Happy Gilmore.” Barker plays himself in the film, and a scene in which he and Sandler’s character engage in a fistfight on a golf course became an unlikely cultural touchstone for twenty- and thirtysomething men. Producers said the scene’s popularity gave “The Price is Right” a badly needed boost in the ratings, and Barker claimed that someone in the audience asked him about the film almost every day for years afterward.
Sandler and Barker reunited for a follow-up video to the famous fight scene as part of Comedy Central’s “Night of Too Many Stars” benefit in 2015.
In 2004, a bronze statue of Barker was unveiled in the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Hall of Fame Plaza in North Hollywood. He was inducted into the TV Academy’s Hall of Fame earlier that year.
“I think that this is just the culmination of everything for me professionally, I really do, and I’m delighted that the Academy chose to do it,” Barker said of the statue.
In 1998, a portion of the main studio at CBS Television City was named in his honor.
A vegetarian for the latter part of his life, Barker was associated with multiple animal welfare issues, most prominently his frequent public service announcements encouraging people to spay and neuter their pets. Those spots began appearing at the conclusion of “Price is Right” episodes in 1982. Barker worked tirelessly to help mitigate animal overpopulation, decrying the tragedy of millions of unwanted pets who must be euthanized or live out their unhappy lives in cages at animal shelters.
He established the DJ&T Foundation in 1994 to help control the animal population. But his love for animals was hardly confined to the issue of spaying and neutering. Barker donated millions of dollars over the years to a variety of animal causes. He contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to efforts to move elephants and other wild animals from zoos to sanctuaries, including several lobbying efforts aimed at the Los Angeles Zoo.
He pledged $300,000 in matching funds to support care at a sanctuary for Ruby, an African elephant who lived for 20 years at the LA Zoo before being sent to a San Andreas sanctuary in 2007 after years of lobbying by animal- rights activists.
Barker donated $1 million to the UCLA law school to create an animal rights law endowment in 2004, and $1 million to Columbia Law School to support the study of animal rights the same year.
In 2001, Harvard Law School was presented with a $500,000 gift to establish a fund named after Barker for the study of animal rights.
In 2009, he donated $5 million to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a group known for its anti-whaling efforts.
He also gave generously to the Semper Fi Fund to help provide assistance to injured members of the U.S. armed forces and their families.
In March 2012, PETA dedicated the Bob Barker Building at its West Coast headquarters in Echo Park. Barker had donated $2.5 million for the facility’s renovation two years earlier.
“I have always loved animals and I had contributed financially to animal (organizations), but I had never participated,” Barker told the Television Academy Foundation in a 2000 interview. “About 20, 25 years ago I was the honorary chairman of Be Kind to Animals Week here in Los Angeles. … And I was invited by organizations to participate in activities, and as I did I became more aware of the terrible exploitation that exists. I just felt compelled to do what I could to change the situation, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Barker was married to Dorothy Jo Gideon from 1945 until 1981, when she passed away from lung cancer. He never remarried. The couple had no children.
Barker wrote an autobiography, “Priceless Memories,” that was published in 2009.
–City News Service