Game show icon also hosted Truth or Consequences
Bob Barker, the iconic game show host of The Price Is Right for 35 years died at his Los Angeles-area home due to natural causes at the age of 99 – just four months shy of his 100th Birthday, on December 12. Barker was best known for his long-running stint at host of The Price IS Right as at 35, was the third-longest running host of a game show in television history (surpassed in 2017 by Wheel of Fortune’s Pat Sajak and in 2020 by Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek.) Throughout out his career, Barker has amassed nineteen Emmy Awards – fourteen of them as Price Is Right host.
Barker was born in Darrington, Wash. but spent much of his childhood at a South Dakota Indian Reservation as an enrolled member of the Sioux tribe. His first radio gig came at a country music station (KTTS) in Springfield, Mo. in 1948, then took a job at a news editor/announcer job at West Palm Beach’s WWPG-AM before moving to California in 1950, where he got his own radio show broadcast from Los Angeles’ at KNX-AM, where he hosted an audience participation show.
In 1956, Barker became host of Truth Or Consequences in its NBC and syndicated versions from 1956 to 1975, spanning nearly two decades and became the first successful first-run syndicated game show as a daily strip.
In 1972, Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions was looking to bring back The Price Is Right, which had a 1956-65 run on NBC and later ABC in a new form. The series was originally pitched in syndication by Viacom with Dennis James as host but CBS was also interested in this version as a daily show as the network was looking to replace its ratings-declining daytime sitcom rerun block and wanted Barker as host. While the weekly prime access (7:30 p.m. ET) version of Price had James as host, Barker (who couldn’t do the nighttime version anyway as he was still hosting Truth) was installed as host of the CBS daytime version as both debuted in September 1972. Originally a half-hour, The CBS version of Price expanded to an hour in 1975, becoming the first game show to do so.
With ratings slipping for the nighttime version and ratings increasing for Barker’s daytime version, Goodson-Todman and Viacom replaced James with Barker in 1977 and would run for three more years until 1980 while the daytime version was still going strong. Despite the reluctance of network executives, Barker was allowed to let his hair go naturally gray; his decision had no impact on the ratings. Barker announced his retirement on October 31, 2006 and the final episode of him as host aired on June 15, 2007.
In the 1990s, Barker became something of an unlikely hero figure among young audiences after his appearance in the film Happy Gilmore where he literally kicked Adam Sandler’s ass (doing something we all loved to do at one point in our lives) in a memorable scene. In addition to other appearances, Barker was a one-night emcee for WWE Raw at Rosemont’s Allstate Arena in September 2009, and won a Slammy Award for Best Guest Host. Barker also hosted the Pillsbury Bake-Off and both the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants.
In addition to his game show hosting duties, Barker was also known as an animal rights activist, supporting groups such as the United Activists For Animal Rights, PETA, and other organizations, and created one himself. He ended the practice of giving away fur coats on Price and starting in 1982, began signing off every episode saying “[T]his is Bob Barker reminding you to help control the pet population — have your pets spayed or neutered”, a tradition Drew Carey carries on to this very day.
Though Barker appeared to have a clean-cut image, it was tarnished due to several controversies. He had numerous issues with his “Barker’s Beauties” (as they were called then) as Dian Parkinson sued Barker in 1994 after alleging she and him had a three-year affair amid charges of sexual harassment (the suit was later dropped.) A year later, Holly Hallstrom was fired from the show because of weight gain and sued Barker for refusing to give false information to the media regarding Parkinson’s lawsuit as ordered by him, and settled out of court in 2005. In another instance just months after Barker retired from Price, a Black CBS employee named Deborah Curling sued the network, Barker, and the show for racial discrimination after testifying against Barker in court involving a wrongful termination suit against a former worker and as a result, was demoted to a position in a hostile work environment, forcing her to leave her job. Her lawsuit was dismissed on appeal.
Barker’s last appearance on The Price Is Right was a surprise one on April Fools Day in 2015, where he took over the hosting duties for Drew Carey for one segment.
Barker will be buried beside his wife Dorothy at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills. At Television City where The Price Is Right was taped, Studio 33 was renamed The Bob Barker Studio, though the facility is now closed for renovations during the next several years.