Bob Barker, Courtly Host of ‘The Price Is Right,’ Dies at 99

Bob Barker, the silver-haired TV personality who spent 35 years presiding with courtly reserve over the showcase of American consumerism known as The Price Is Right, the longest-running game show in US television history, has died. He was 99.

(Bloomberg) — Bob Barker, the silver-haired TV personality who spent 35 years presiding with courtly reserve over the showcase of American consumerism known as The Price Is Right, the longest-running game show in US television history, has died. He was 99.

Barker’s death was confirmed by his longtime publicist, NBC News reported Saturday. 

A television fixture for three generations of Americans, Barker hosted Truth or Consequences for 19 years, beginning in 1956, and emceed Miss Universe and Miss USA beauty pageants from 1967 to 1987. But his defining role was as ringmaster for 6,586 episodes of CBS’s The Price Is Right, which tests whether wildly enthusiastic contestants — called at random from the live studio audience by the famous words, “Come on down!” — can guess the retail prices of items ranging from household cleansers to luxury automobiles. 

Barker estimated that during his run, from 1972 until his retirement in 2007, contestants won more than $300 million in prizes in the show’s various games, which carried names like Plinko and Punch-a-Bunch.

Plucking regular people from a diverse audience to estimate the value of a blender or sofa set gave the hour-long show its broad appeal and staying power, Barker said in a 2000 oral-history interview with the Television Academy Foundation. 

“It is a people-oriented show beyond anything else on the air,” he said, adding, “You’ll see one fellow there in a three-piece suit, you’ll see the next one in sandals and shorts. It looks different and it feels different and it is different. I think television viewers like to see people just like they are up there on the stage doing this stuff.”

About 8.7 million viewers watched a special prime-time encore of Barker’s farewell show on June 15, 2007. Actor Drew Carey was picked to succeed Barker as host when the show entered its 36th season. Still on the air, the show celebrated the start of its 50th season in September 2021. 

Female Employees

One cloud over Barker’s tenure was a handful of disputes with female employees.

After years as a widower, Barker had a brief relationship with Dian Parkinson, who spent 19 years as one of “Barker’s Beauties” — the models who posed on stage with prize offerings. Parkinson sued Barker for sexual harassment in 1994, a year after leaving the show, but dropped the lawsuit in 1995, saying it was too arduous and costly.

Another of the show’s former models, Holly Hallstrom, accused Barker of wrongful termination, saying she was let go for refusing to support him in the Parkinson case. Her lawsuit ended with an out-of-court settlement.

Barker used his fame to promote humane treatment of dogs, cats and other pets. He urged viewers to neuter or spay their pets, and he cut ties with beauty pageants after being rebuffed in his efforts to eliminate fur coats from prize packages.

A vegetarian, he credited his wife with turning him into a passionate advocate for animals.

“I want them to live their life the way nature intended,” he said in a 2002 interview on CNN’s Larry King Live. “I don’t approve of hunting. I don’t approve of mistreating or making an animal miserable.”

In 1995, Barker formed and endowed a foundation that supported clinics and voucher programs offering spaying and neutering. The foundation was named in memory of Barker’s wife, Dorothy Jo Gideon, and mother, Matilda Valandra, who was known as Tilly.

Dorothy, who was Barker’s high school sweetheart, died of lung cancer in 1981. They had no children.

Economics Degree

Robert William Barker was born in Darrington, Washington, on Dec. 12, 1923, and grew up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where his mother taught school. His father, Byron, an electrical power foreman, died from injuries suffered in a fall from a tower when Barker was 6.

Barker attended what today is Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, obtaining an economics degree and graduating summa cum laude in 1947 after interrupting his studies to enlist in the Navy. He worked on radio in Missouri, then in California, moving to television to host Truth or Consequences from 1956 to 1975.

In 1972, producer Mark Goodson approached Barker with plans to revive The Price Is Right, which had aired from 1956 to 1965 with host Bill Cullen. The new format would allow the closest bidders to come up on stage and play games for additional prizes.

“He called me and I went in and we looked at it, his ideas and so on,” Barker recalled in his CNN interview. “He said, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘I think this will play.’ And he said, ‘I think this will play, too, Bob.’ And he said, ‘I think we’ll get a long run out of this.”’

The new show, with Barker as host, debuted on Sept. 4, 1972. 

The Price Is Right surpassed What’s My Line? to set a record for US game show longevity in 1991, according to CBS. To mark the show’s 5,000th episode in 1998, CBS renamed the Studio 33 soundstage — part of CBS Television City in Los Angeles — Bob Barker Studio.

Barker appeared as himself in a handful of TV sitcoms, including How I Met Your Mother, and as a voiced character in SpongeBob SquarePants and The Family Guy. He was inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame in 2004. 

Barker made a lighthearted foray into film in 1996, beating up the sarcastic golfer played by comedian Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore. He and Sandler won an MTV Movie Award for best fight, and Barker, in his 70s, became revered by a new generation.

“That’s where it really seemed to start, this ‘cult’ thing,” Barker said of the famous fight scene in a 2007 interview with the Washington Post. “I have to tell you, I don’t understand it. I wish I knew the answer. I wish I could bottle it. Whatever it is, I’m grateful for it.”

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