Bob Barker, whose warmth and wit as the host of “The Price Is Right” for nearly four decades drew legions of boisterous Americans to a stage promising luxury vacations and brand new cars, died Saturday at his home in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. He was 99.
A spokesman, Roger Neal, announced his death.
Mr. Barker, who was also a longtime and prominent advocate for animal rights, was a fixture on daytime television for half a century – first as the host of “Truth or Consequences” from 1956 to 1974 and, most famously, from 1974 to 1972 The Price Is Right, the longest-running game show on American television.
He began his 35-year tenure as the host of “The New Price Is Right,” as it was known when it debuted on CBS as a revamped and revamped version of the original “The Price Is Right,” which had aired from 1956-1965. (The “new” was soon dropped from the name.) He also hosted a weekly syndicated nighttime version from 1977 until its cancellation in 1980.
Nearly a decade before his retirement in 2007, Mr. Barker estimated that during his tenure more than 40,000 attendees had followed the announcer’s well-known call, “Come on down!” and raised around $200 million in prizes large and small, from beach blankets to Buicks, by guessing the prices of various items.
Mr. Barker has won 14 Daytime Emmy Awards as host of The Price Is Right and four more as executive producer (as well as a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 1999). He once said that the show took so long because “all of our games are price based, and everybody can relate to that.” However, he added that he personally never knows the price of anything and that if he ever participating in such a show would be “a complete failure”.
Mr. Barker was well known for his longstanding commitment to animal rights causes. In 1988 he resigned as master of ceremonies for the “Miss USA” and “Miss Universe” pageants because fur coats were given out as prizes there. He also protested the mistreatment of animals by their trainers on the sets of various films and television shows. He ended each episode of “The Price Is Right” by saying, “Help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered.”
Robert William Barker was born on December 12, 1923 in Darrington, Washington. His father Byron, a power line foreman, died in 1929 from injuries sustained in a fall from a pole some years earlier. Shortly thereafter, his mother, Matilda (Tarleton) Barker, accepted a teaching position in Mission, SD, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
“Cowboys tied their horses to drawbars,” Mr. Barker recalled of those years. “It was like growing up in the Wild West.”
When Mr. Barker was 13, his mother married Louis Valandra, a tire salesman, and they moved to Springfield, Missouri. He received a basketball scholarship to Drury College in Springfield, but dropped out to apply to become a naval aviator cadet when World War II broke out.
When the war ended, he waited for combat and was discharged as a first lieutenant. He returned to Drury, studied economics and graduated summa cum laude in 1947.
Before graduating, Mr. Barker had started his first radio job at KTTS in Springfield, where he was a disc jockey, news writer, sportscaster and producer. After college he worked at WWPG in Palm Beach, Florida and KWIK in Burbank, California.
Mr Barker is survived by his half-brother, Kent Valandra. Mr Barker’s longtime girlfriend Nancy Burnet, an animal rights activist friend who had overseen his care – and of whom he wrote in his autobiography: ‘Our relationship has lasted 25 years, on and off. Mostly on.” – is executor of his estate.
Mr. Barker’s big break came in 1956 when producer Ralph Edwards heard him on KNX, a Los Angeles radio station, and asked him to audition for Truth or Consequences, a long-running game show (it had started on radio in 1940). ), in which the participants had to perform wild stunts. He got the job and he and Mr. Edwards became lifelong friends.
Mr. Barker was still hosting Truth or Consequences when he was offered The Price Is Right in 1972, and for two years those jobs overlapped. After that he was one of the busiest people on television for a long time and was also active as a presenter of the Rose Bowl Parade and the Pillsbury Bake-Offs in the 1970s and 1980s.
He also appeared occasionally in films, almost always as a comically exaggerated version of himself. His most memorable appearance was the 1996 comedy Happy Gilmore, in which he gleefully engaged in a brawl with the title character, a boorish hockey player-turned-golfer , played by Adam Sandler.
For many viewers, The Price Is Right was, as one critic put it, among the last “islands of health” on television. That image was called into question in 1994 when Dian Parkinson, who had been a model on the show for almost 20 years – one of the so-called Barker’s Beauties whose main job was to present the awards – sued Mr Barker for sexual harassment.
Ms Parkinson, who left the show the year before, said she had sex with Mr Barker because she thought she would lose her job if she didn’t. In response, Mr Barker admitted that he and Ms Parkinson had been in a relationship for several years beginning in 1989 but insisted it was amicable.
“She told me that I had always been so narrow-minded that it was about time I had a handkerchief in my life,” he said, “and she volunteered the handkerchief.” Ms Parkinson pulled the lawsuit back in 1995 because she said she lacked both the emotional stamina and the money to pursue the lawsuit.
Mr. Barker announced his resignation in October 2006. “I’ll be 83 on December 12,” he said at the time, “and I decided to retire when I was young.”
His final episode as the host of The Price Is Right was taped on June 6, 2007 and briefly aired twice on June 15: first on regular daytime programming and then again in prime time.
After an extensive search, comedian Drew Carey was chosen to succeed Mr Barker in July 2007. In an interview with The Times, Mr Carey called Mr Barker a “legend” and praised him for the “empathy” he showed towards the candidates.
“He wants them to win. “You can hug him,” said Mr. Carey. “He went from your father and uncle to your grandfather.”
Mr. Barker returned to the show as a guest in 2009 to promote his autobiography, Priceless Memories, and again in 2013 to celebrate his 90th birthday, and as an unannounced guest host in 2015, an April Fool’s joke stunt. He promised to come back at 100.
“People ask me, ‘What do you miss most about ‘The Price’ is Right?'” And I say, ‘The money,'” Mr Barker said in a 2013 interview with Parade magazine. “But that’s not entirely true. I also miss the people.”
Richard Severo, a reporter for The Times from 1968 to 2006, died in June. Peter Keepnews and Chris Cameron contributed coverage.