“It is with profound sadness that we announce that the World’s Greatest MC who ever lived, Bob Barker has left us,” Barker’s publicist Roger Neal said in a statement on Saturday.
Barker was cited in the Guinness Book of World Records for his consecutive appearances hosting gameshows and doling out hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and prizes over the years before Alex Trebek surpassed him. Barker hosted “The Price Is Right,” the longest-running gameshow in TV history, for 35 years, retiring in June 2007.
In “The Price Is Right,” enthusiastic contestants are invited by the deep-voiced announcer to “Come on down” and play mini-games based on guessing the cost of merchandise.
Barker was a strong advocate for animal rights, and donated millions of dollars to animal neutering programs. He was known for ending his shows by saying, “And remember folks, always spay or neuter your pets!”
“The Price Is Right” was the last man standing in the daytime gameshow genre at the time, having survived 12 years after its last competitor had been canceled. (CBS would later revive daytime gamers in 2009). “The Price Is Right” continued on the network under host Drew Carey.
Barker held a weekday TV job continuously for 51 years, which included his years on “Truth or Consequences.”
He won 19 Emmy Awards in total, including 14 for gameshow host, more than any other performer. He also won four for executive producer of “The Price Is Right” and received a lifetime achievement Emmy for Daytime Television in 1999.
He attributed his popularity to the fact that he never performed as an actor, except occasionally playing himself (as in the Adam Sandler movie “Happy Gilmore” in 1996). His shows were a family affair, produced by his first wife, his high school sweetheart Dorothy Jo Gideon, until her death from cancer in 1981, and he usually brought his pets to the studio.
His face was familiar to Americans of several generations. The handsome, amiable, silver-haired host was never obsequious or condescending to his contestants, always enthusiastic and warm.
With his resonant speaking voice, he decided to pursue a career in radio after college and tried a number of different positions before settling on audience-participation programming. After working in Florida, he moved to California, where he hosted “The Bob Barker Show” from 1950 through 1956, when he was tapped by Ralph Edwards, who wanted a daytime host for his show “Truth or Consequences” (which was already playing in primetime and had originated on radio). He shot his first show in late 1956 and continued until 1966 on NBC and for another eight years in syndication
Even while he was hosting “Truth or Consequences,” Barker had embarked on another gameshow, “The Price Is Right,” starting in 1972 on CBS. The show featured female models, known as Barker’s Beauties, who introduced the prizes, and announcer Johnny Olson, who continued on the show until his death in 1985. By 1975 “The Price Is Right” had been expanded to an hour, and by 1990 it had become the longest-running gameshow in television history and part of American pop culture history.
Barker took over as exec producer for the show in 1988, following the death of the original executive producer, Frank Wayne. In this capacity, Barker created several pricing games and instituted a prohibition on foreign cars and animal-based products.
“One of the first things that people said to me when they knew I was gonna get the show was, ‘Come on down,’ that was the thing I heard over and over, and, ‘Spay and neuter your pets,’” “The Price Is Right” host Drew Carey said in an installment of Variety’s Making a Scene. “So I gotta keep saying it. And I would anyways — it’s a part of the show.”
Carey continued, “When I told Bob I was going to keep doing it, we were at lunch and I mentioned it to him that I was gonna keep doing it — but I was going to do it whether he wanted me to or not because it’s such a big part of the show.”
Born Robert William Barker on Dec. 12, 1923, in Darrington, Wash., Barker grew up in South Dakota, living on the Rosebud Indian reservation (where his mother was a teacher) until he was in his early teens, and then settled in Springfield, Mo. After high school he entered Drury College on a basketball scholarship, leaving school to train as a fighter pilot with the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1943, though he never saw combat during WWII.
In 1947 he earned a B.A. in economics and was continuing his education when he became sidetracked by a radio job, which he had originally taken to pay for his schooling.
Barker also had other, shorter-lived hosting stints, such as 1980’s “That’s My Line,” a variation on the earlier “What’s My Line?” He also hosted the Pillsbury Bake-Off from 1969-85, the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
In 1994 Barker was the subject of a sexual harassment suit by Dian Parkinson, who had worked on “The Price Is Right” for 18 years, claiming she had been forced to have sex with Barker in order to maintain her job. Barker countered that the sex had been consensual, and Parkinson eventually dropped her suit.
He was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 2004 and into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2008.
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