Bob Barker, the TV game-show legend who hosted “The Price Is Right” for more than three decades and became one of the country’s most prominent animal-rights activists, has died. He was 99.
Barker died at home of natural causes, according to publicist Roger Neal, who confirmed the death on behalf of Nancy Burnet, Barker’s longtime friend and overseer of Barker’s care.
In a television career that spanned more than half a century and made him a welcome presence in millions of living rooms, the good-humored Barker came to national fame in 1956 when he took over as host of NBC’s daytime show “Truth or Consequences,” a job that lasted 18 years.
In 1972, Barker also began hosting what was then called “The New Price Is Right” on CBS, a rebranding of the original version, which ran from 1956 to 1965 and was hosted by Bill Cullen.
The Barker-hosted “Price Is Right,” in which contestants from the studio audience were invited to “come on down!” to try to guess the retail prices of furniture, cars, appliances and other prizes via various games, became the longest-running game show in American TV history.
As host, Barker was known for his quick wit. When one contestant turned out to be a sheriff, Barker grinned and asked, “You here on business?”
In a 1987 interview with The Times, Barker said he liked “to try to create spontaneous laughter with these unrehearsed contestants, so each show for me is like mining for gold.”
But it was the wildly exuberant contestants who provided some of the biggest laughs and most memorable moments on the show, including a woman who ran down to the stage so enthusiastically after hearing her name called out that her breasts popped out of her tube top.
Over the years, Barker was the recipient of kisses, hugs and even marriage proposals from some of the more excited contestants.
When Drew Carey took over as host of “The Price Is Right” in 2007, he said he did so with great trepidation.
’’When they first approached me and said, ’Would you think about taking over for Bob Barker?’ my first thought was: ’Are you kidding me? I’ll get murdered,’ ” Carey told the New York Times.
He agreed to take the job only after going to lunch with Barker and getting his blessing.
Barker’s 35-year tenure on “The Price Is Right” led to numerous honors.
In 2002 — after hosting “The Price Is Right” for 29 years, seven months and 22 days — Barker broke Johnny Carson’s record for the longest continuing performance on the same network television show.
Barker received a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award for Daytime Television in 1999 and was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 2004. The studio at CBS Television City in Los Angeles where “The Price Is Right” is produced was named after him in 1998.
By the time he retired from “The Price Is Right” in 2007, Barker had won 14 Daytime Emmy Awards as host.
“Bob brought a lot of much-needed class and humor to the genre,” Jerry Katzman, the former vice chairman of the William Morris Agency, told The Times.
But those accolades were tainted when a former “Price Is Right” model sued him for sexual harassment in 1994. About a half dozen other suits followed, alleging sexual harassment, racial discrimination, wrongful termination and creating a toxic work environment. Barker denounced the suits as distortions, exaggerations or outright falsehoods.
The suits were either dropped, dismissed or settled out of court. Several of the women said they simply didn’t have the financial resources to continue pursuing their legal claims.
In a 2000 L.A. Times article, one of Barker’s longtime colleagues, “Price Is Right” model Janice Pennington, said that after more than 6,000 shows she had been dismissed from her job without so much as a word or handshake from Barker. Pennington linked her firing to a deposition she gave in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by another longtime “Price Is Right” model, Holly Hallstrom.
Barker was born Dec. 12, 1923, in Darrington, Wash., a postcard-perfect town in the Cascades. Not long afterward, Barker’s father, the foreman of the power line that ran through the state, fell from a high line and seriously injured his hip and spine. He died six years later while the family was living in Springfield, Mo.
Barker and his mother moved to Mission, S.D., a farming town on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, where she worked as a high school teacher. She later remarried and the family returned to Springfield.
After graduating from high school in 1941, Barker attended what is now Drury University in Springfield but left in 1943 to become a naval aviation cadet during World War II. The war ended before Barker was sent overseas and he returned to Drury, where he graduated in 1947 with a degree in economics.
To help pay for his college education, Barker got a job as a news writer and sportscaster at a local radio station. He soon became staff announcer, disc jockey and news reader.
Then, one day, he was asked to fill in as host of an audience-participation show.
Returning home from work the first day, Barker received a rave review from his wife, Dorothy Jo, his high school sweetheart, whom he had married in 1945.
As he recalled in a 1996 interview with The Times, his wife had heard him on the audience-participation show and told him, “Barker, this is what you should do because you do it better than you’ve done anything else.”
In 1950, after a stint working at a radio station in Palm Beach, Fla., Barker and his wife moved to Hollywood.
Barker was hosting his own audience-participation show in 1956 on KNX, the local CBS radio affiliate, when game-show producer and TV host Ralph Edwards heard him on his car radio. He liked what he heard.
Edwards, who had created “Truth or Consequences” for radio in 1940 and then moved the show to television in 1950 with himself as host, had sold the program as a daytime show on NBC and was conducting auditions for a new host.
“After a series of auditions, he called me on Dec. 21, 1956, at five minutes past 12 noon, and told me I was to be the host of ‘Truth or Consequences,’“ Barker recalled.
“Every Dec. 21 after that,” he said, “we met for lunch, and at five minutes past 12 noon, we drank a toast to our long and enduring friendship.”
For years, Barker signed off “The Price Is Right” by saying, “Bob Barker reminding you to help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered.”
He credited his wife with setting the example for his becoming a vegetarian in 1979 and for launching his passion for animal rights. She died of lung cancer in 1981.
At Barker’s request, “The Price Is Right” stopped accepting advertising for meat products and ended its practice of giving away fur coats as prizes.
Barker generated headlines in 1987 when he threatened to quit after two decades as the host of the Miss USA Pageant when he discovered that 10 fur coats would be modeled by finalists over their swimsuits. The pageant relented and the finalists ultimately wore fake furs.
But a year later, Barker quit his two longtime gigs as host of both the Miss USA and the Miss Universe pageants when organizers refused to remove fur coats as prizes.
Barker’s DJ&T Foundation — a nonprofit founded in the mid-’90s and named for his wife, Dorothy Jo, and his mother, Matilda, who was known as Tilly — subsidizes low-cost spay-neuter clinics across the nation. He donated 500 acres of open land in Riverside County to a sanctuary for donkeys and gave $5 million to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to purchase a ship used to interdict in whaling operations. One of the group’s vessels is named for Barker.
“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 in a statement. “We were great friends over these 40 years.”
Barker made a memorable cameo appearance as himself in the 1996 Adam Sandler comedy “Happy Gilmore,” in which the 73-year-old but extremely fit Barker — he once studied karate with Chuck Norris — had the last laugh in a slugfest with Sandler’s hockey-player-turned-golfer character during a pro-am golf tournament.
Their movie fisticuffs earned Barker and Sandler the MTV Movie Award for Best Fight.
“Young men to this day say, ‘In real life, could you whip Adam Sandler?’ ” Barker told an audience in 2009. “And I tell them, ‘Adam Sandler? He couldn’t whip Regis Philbin.’”
Barker had no children and never remarried.
McLellan is a former Times staff writer.