Bob Barker, who starred for more than five consecutive decades as a TV game show host, including 35 as the host of The Price Is Right, has died, according to his representative. He was 99 years old.
“It is with profound sadness that we announce that the World’s Greatest MC who ever lived, Bob Barker has left us,” publicist Roger Neal said in a statement to NBC News on Saturday.
“He had a beautiful life,” Neal told CBS.
Barker began his game show hosting career in 1956, when his mentor, producer Ralph Edwards, hired him to host Truth or Consequences. Barker famously used his TV platform to advocate for the rights and well-being of animals, signing off episodes of The Price Is Right with what would become his catchphrase: “Help control the pet population, have your pets spayed or neutered.”
Born in Darrington, Washington on December 12, 1923, Robert William Barker grew up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where his mother was a schoolteacher. After his father’s death and his mother’s remarriage, the family moved to Springfield, Missouri. Barker graduated from high school, and Drury University in Springfield — after a stint in the Navy during World War II — and in 1950, moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in broadcasting.
While hosting a radio show on KNX in Los Angeles, Barker’s big break came when Edwards noticed his voice and offered him the job hosting Truth in 1956. He continued with the show — which challenged contestants to answer trivia questions and perform silly stunts like learning to ride a unicycle on the spot — until 1974. He simultaneously hosted other short-lived game shows like End of the Rainbow, The Family Game and Simon Says, and also began his legendary run as host of The Price Is Right in 1972.
The Barker-hosted TPIR was a revival of the Bill Cullen-hosted game show of the same name that aired from 1956-65 on NBC, then ABC, and whose announcer was the late Don Pardo. Barker relaunched the series on September 4, 1972, and hosted for the next 35 years, until his June 2007 retirement. In 1988, he became an executive producer on the show, and, in addition to hosting the syndicated nighttime version of TPIR for three seasons, he launched a series of primetime specials, The Price Is Right $1,000,000 Spectacular, in 2003.
Barker’s personal convictions as a vegan and animal-rights activist also influences the prizes offered on The Price Is Right. He refused to allow fur coats to be given to contestants – a ban that has continued after his retirement – and also banned foreign automobiles, leather goods, and even cars with leather seats.
Barker wrote in his 2009 memoirs Priceless Memories that he was often credited with TPIR’s success, but that he felt it was simply a universally appealing concept that explained the show’s longevity.
“In addition to the spontaneity and the live atmosphere, the basic premise of the show was strong. Everything we did on the show was based on prices, and everyone identifies with prices,” he wrote. “You can be a policeman, a doctor, a writer, a cabdriver, but you identify with prices … The viewer at home might be standing at an ironing board or feeding an infant or cleaning the house or doing whatever, but once we get into the price-guessing phase of the show, they’re immediately engaged, thinking to themselves, ‘Well, let’s see, that should be about $10.’”
Barker’s reign atop game show land wasn’t without controversy. In 1993, Dian Parkinson, one of the show’s models – dubbed “Barker’s Beauties” – filed an $8 million lawsuit against the host and the show, alleging that Barker had sexually harassed her. Barker alleged that he and Parkinson had a consensual affair, but the model claimed she had been forced to have sex with Barker to avoid being fired—and then was wrongfully fired anyway. A judge dismissed the wrongful termination part of the lawsuit, and let the sexual harassment charge stand. Parkinson dropped the suit in 1995.
In 2005, “Barker’s Beauty” Holly Hallstrom earned a $3 million dollar settlement after suing Barker and the show for firing her, alleging it was because she gained weight and refused to give interviews supporting Barker during the Parkinson legal battle. Her co-stars, Janice Pennington and Kathleen Bradley, were fired from the show in 1999, and received out of court settlements after publicly accusing the show of firing them after the testified on Hallstrom’s behalf in her suit against TPIR.
Barker won 19 Daytime Emmy Awards, including a record 14 statues as Outstanding Game Show Host, and is a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame. Time magazine named him the greatest game show host of all time in 2007, and after the taping of TPIR’s 5,000th episode in 1998, Stage 33 at CBS Television City in Los Angeles was re-named Bob Barker Studio.
Other highlights of his Hollywood career include emceeing the Tournament of Roses Parade from 1969-1988; winning an MTV Movie Award in 1996 for Best Fight Scene for his brawl with Adam Sandler in the movie Happy Gilmore; and returning to The Price Is Right on Dec. 12, 2013 to celebrate his 90th birthday.
Barker’s commitment to animal rights was a lifelong passion, influenced by his mother, and his wife Dorothy Jo. He followed his wife’s lead and became a vegetarian in 1979, and, following his spouse’s death in 1981, dedicated much of his time, and millions of dollars, to animal rights efforts.
He hosted the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants from 1967 to 1987, but quit when the pageant organization refused to stop awarding winners with fur coats. The DJ&T Foundation, founded in 1994 and named after his mother (Tilly) and wife, has dedicated millions of dollars to pet neutering programs, while he donated $1 million to Columbia University law school in 2004 to fund the study of animal rights laws, and in 2010, he donated $5 million to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to fund the purchase of a ship to help stop Japanese whaling operations. PETA supporter Barker also donated $2.5 million to help that organization open a new Los Angeles office, which was named the Bob Barker Building in 2012. In June, he gave nearly 500 acres of land to a small donkey reserve, Donkeyland, so that the animals would have more space.
Barker and Dorothy Jo Gideon became a couple when they were 15-years-old, in 1939. They were married from 1945 until her death in 1981. The couple had no children.
Bob Barker’s Greatest Roles:
Truth or Consequences (1956-74)
Barker began hosting the game show on New Year’s Eve 1956, and it began a lifelong friendship with producer Ralph Edwards.
The Price Is Right (1972-2007)
Barker hosted the series for 35 years, greeting contestants with his trademark skinny microphone. Among the contestants on the show during the Barker era: future Wheel of Fortune letter turner Vanna White, who Barker poked fun at when he said she was too busy looking at herself on camera to pay attention to the game.
Happy Gilmore (1996)
In a classic movie cameo appearance, real-life golfer Barker got into an on-screen scrap with titular star Adam Sandler, resulting in a smackdown for Sandler’s Gilmore. “After the movie was released, I never taped a show that someone in the audience didn’t bring up ‘Happy Gilmore,'” Barker wrote in Priceless Memories. “And, within minutes, members of the audience were asking me to do the line. Of course, I refused. I told them that line was acting.” The line: “Now you’ve had enough … bitch.”
The Bold and the Beautiful (2014)
In August 2014, Barker shared his animal rights message, and spoofed his beloved Happy Gilmore role, when he guest-starred on the CBS soap The Bold and the Beautiful, throwing a few punches at Wyatt Spencer when Spencer pokes fun at animal lovers.