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Bob Barker, the beloved host of “The Price Is Right” for 35 years, died Saturday at the age of 99.
Barker died at his Los Angeles home, his publicist Roger Neal told ABC News. He died of natural causes, TMZ reported.
“It is with profound sadness that we announce that the World’s Greatest MC who ever lived, Bob Barker has left us,” Neal said in a statement.
Over the course of his decades-long career, the game show host collected 19 Emmys, more than any other performer. He retired in 2007 after 50 years in show business, and in 2017 was inducted into The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Hall of Fame.
“Bob brought a lot of much-needed class and humor to the genre,” Jerry Katzman, former vice chair of the William Morris Agency and adjunct faculty member in the film and television department at UCLA, once said of Barker. “I don’t think we’ll ever see that again.”
Robert William Barker was born in Darrington, Washington, a small town just outside of Seattle. His father, a powerline foreman, died in a work-related fall, when he was nine years old, after which he and his mother moved to the Midwest, where he stayed throughout high school.
He attended Drury University on a basketball scholarship, but put his studies on hold to become a Navy fighter pilot. While on leave, Barker married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Jo Gideon, and after returning, completed his degree in economics.
After graduation, he spent several years honing his radio skills in Florida, eventually realizing that his best opportunity for success lay out west. He and his wife moved to California in 1950 with no jobs, no agents, and no connections. After struggling for several years, Barker landed a position hosting “The Bob Barker Show,” with Dorothy Jo often singing the commercial jingles.
But his big break came in 1956 when Ralph Edwards, producer-creator of the game show “Truth or Consequences,” tapped Barker to take his place as host.
“I really wanted that show. That telephone call from Ralph Edwards was and will always be the most important thing that ever happened to me professionally,” Barker told The Los Angeles Times in 2007. “I had done some local television, but not much, and I had done radio on a regional network. But I had never done a national show. All the wonderful things that have happened to me, it all began with that telephone call. People say, ‘If he hadn’t called someone else would have called.’ Well, maybe and maybe not.”
Barker stayed with the program until it went off the air in 1974, but before its run was over, he started working on another game show that seemed to have little promise, “The Price Is Right.”
What would eventually become the longest-running game show in history had floundered in two previous runs, first at NBC and later at ABC. In both cases, it struggled in the ratings and was eventually taken off the air completely in 1965. But in 1972, CBS decided to make one more run at reviving the concept that saw contestants bidding on retail items to win cash and prizes.
The Tiffany network created both a daytime and nighttime version of the show, with the lesser known Barker taking the A.M. shift while a more established personality — Dennis James — hosted in the evening. Within two years, Barker was hosting both shows. The nightly version was eventually cancelled but Barker went on to front the daily program for 35 years.
While hosting was always Barker’s primary role in entertainment, he did, on occasion, make other notable film and television appearances. His cameo in Adam Sandler’s 1996 comedy “Happy Gilmore,” which saw Barker delivering a beat-down to the hot-headed title character, especially delighted audiences.
In a town full of celebrities who lose no opportunity to prove their liberal bona fides, the famously twinkle-eyed emcee bucked convention by occasionally supporting Republicans. In 2013, at age 84, Barker publicly supported Florida Congressional candidate David Jolly, filming an ad for the then-Republican, where he said, “Folks, when you get to be as young as I am, you call it like you see it. That’s why I’m supporting David Jolly for Congress. With Jolly, the choice is right.”
Still, the only political issue Barker ever spoke about with any regularity was animal rights. A long-time vegan, he began ending every “Price Is Right” episode in 1982 with the tag out, “This is Bob Barker reminding you to help control the pet population — have your pets spayed or neutered.” In 1988, after 20 years on the job, he quit hosting the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants when producers rejected his pleas to stop giving out furs as prizes in the competition.
Barker’s commitment to animal welfare ran so deep, it spawned one of Hollywood’s strangest feuds, between him and beloved Golden Girls actress, the late Betty White. Barker called White his “sworn enemy” after they faced off over the care of an elephant at the Los Angeles Zoo. When zookeepers decided the animal’s pen had become too small Barker lobbied for it to be removed to a nearby sanctuary while White wanted it to receive a larger enclosure.
White’s side prevailed. Forever after, Barker would refuse to attend any awards show at which White would also be present, leading her to make a pre-recorded video appearance at the Game Show Awards in 2009 when Barker was honored with a lifetime achievement award.
If Barker’s animosity could have an unusually long shelf-life, so, too, could his affection.
After Dorothy Jo’s death from cancer in 1981, he told People, “I’ll never marry again. Dorothy Jo was the love of my life.” He never did.
When Barker retired at 84, former CEO of the Game Show Network Rich Cronin summed up what made so many fans view him as the greatest game show host of all time.
“He has the combination of being a people person, he’s very relaxed and he has great charisma, but he lets the contestants shine,” Cronin said. “When he jokes, it’s very good-natured and never at their expense. There are a lot of people viewing at home that are alone, and Bob is their best friend in the world.”