Popular U.S. game show host Bob Barker, a household name for a half-century as host of “Truth or Consequences” and “The Price Is Right,” died at his home in Los Angeles, said a publicist.
Barker — also a longtime animal rights activist — died Saturday morning, according to publicist Roger Neal. Barker was 99.
“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,” said Nancy Burnet, his longtime friend and caretaker, in a statement.
Barker retired in June 2007, telling his studio audience: “I thank you, thank you, thank you for inviting me into your home for more than 50 years.”
Barker was working in radio in 1956 when producer Ralph Edwards invited him to audition as the new host of “Truth or Consequences,” a game show in which audience members had to do wacky stunts — the “consequence” — if they failed to answer a question — the “truth,” which was always the silly punchline to a riddle no one was ever meant to furnish. (Q: What did one eye say to another? A: Just between us, something smells.)
In a 1996 interview with The Associated Press, Barker recalled receiving the news that he had been hired: “I know exactly where I was, I know exactly how I felt: I hung up the phone and said to my wife, ‘Dorothy Jo, I got it!'”
Barker stayed with “Truth or Consequences” for 18 years — including several years in a syndicated version.
Taped more than 5,000 shows
Meanwhile, he began hosting a resurrected version of “The Price Is Right” in 1972. (The original host in the 1950s and ’60s was Bill Cullen.) It would become TV’s longest-running game show and the last on a broadcast network of what in TV’s early days had numbered dozens.
“I have grown old in your service,” the silver-haired, perennially tanned Barker joked on a prime-time television retrospective in the mid-’90s.
In all, he taped more than 5,000 shows in his career. He said he was retiring because “I’m just reaching the age where the constant effort to be there and do the show physically is a lot for me. … Better [to leave] a year too soon than a year too late.”
Comedian Drew Carey was chosen to replace him.
Barker was back with Carey for one show broadcast in April 2009. He was there to promote the publication of his memoir, “Priceless Memories,” in which he summed up his joy from hosting the show as the opportunity “to watch people reveal themselves and to watch the excitement and humor unfold.”
He well understood the attraction of “The Price Is Right,” in which audience members — invited to “Come on down!” to the stage — competed for prizes by trying to guess their retail value.
“Everyone can identify with prices, even the president of the United States. Viewers at home become involved because they all have an opinion on the bids,” Barker once said. His own appeal was clear: Barker played it straight — warm, gracious and witty — refusing to mock the game show format or his contestants.
“I want the contestants to feel as though they’re guests in my home,” he said in 1996. “Perhaps my feeling of respect for them comes across to viewers, and that may be one of the reasons why I’ve lasted.”
Promote animal rights
As a TV personality, Barker retained a touch of the old school — for instance, no wireless microphone for him. Like the mic itself, the mic cord served him well as a prop, insouciantly flicked and finessed.
His career longevity, he said, was the result of being content. “I had the opportunity to do this type of show and I discovered I enjoyed it … People who do something that they thoroughly enjoy, and they started doing it when they’re very young, I don’t think they want to stop.”
Barker also spent 20 years as host of the Miss USA Pageant and the Miss Universe Pageant. A longtime animal rights activist who daily urged his viewers to “have your pets spayed or neutered” and successfully lobbied to ban fur coats as prizes on “The Price Is Right,” he quit the Miss USA Pageant in 1987 in protest over the presentation of fur coats to the winners.
In 1997, Barker declined to be a presenter at the Daytime Emmy awards ceremony because he said it snubbed game shows by not airing awards in the category. He called game shows “the pillars of daytime TV.”
He had a memorable cameo appearance on the big screen in 1996, sparring with Adam Sandler in the movie “Happy Gilmore.” “I did ‘The Price Is Right’ for 35 years, and they’re asking me how it was to beat up Adam Sandler,” Barker later joked.
In 1994, the widowed Barker was sued for sexual harassment by Dian Parkinson, a “Price is Right” model for 18 years. Barker admitted engaging in “hanky panky” with Parkinson from 1989-91 but said she initiated the relationship. Parkinson dropped the lawsuit in 1995, saying it was hurting her health.
Barker became embroiled in a dispute with another former “Price Is Right” model, Holly Hallstrom, who claimed she was fired in 1995 because the show’s producers believed she was fat. Barker denied the allegations.
Neither uproar affected his goodwill from the audience.
Born in Darrington, Washington, in 1923, Barker spent part of his childhood on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where his widowed mother had taken a teaching job. The family later moved to Springfield, Missouri, where he attended high school. He served in the Navy in World War II.
He married Dorothy Jo Gideon, his high school sweetheart; she died in 1981 after 37 years of marriage. They had no children.
Barker was given a lifetime achievement award at the 26th annual Daytime Emmy Awards in 1999. He closed his acceptance remarks with the signoff: “Have your pets spayed or neutered.”