Robert William Barker
December 12, 1923
Darrington, Washington, U.S.
|Died||August 26, 2023 (aged 99)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Education||Drury University (BA)|
Dorothy Jo Gideon
(m. 1945; died 1981)
Robert William Barker (December 12, 1923 – August 26, 2023) was an American television game show host. He hosted CBS's The Price Is Right, the longest-running game show in North American television history, from 1972 to 2007. He also hosted Truth or Consequences from 1956 to 1975.
Born in Darrington, Washington, in modest circumstances, Barker spent most of his youth on the Rosebud Indian Reservation and was a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. He joined the United States Navy Reserve during World War II. Barker worked part-time in radio while attending college. In 1950, he moved to California to pursue a broadcasting career. He was given his own radio show, The Bob Barker Show, which ran for six years. He began his game show career in 1956, hosting Truth or Consequences.
Barker began hosting The Price Is Right in 1972. He became an advocate for animal rights and of animal rights activism, supporting groups such as the United Activists for Animal Rights, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. In 2007, Barker retired from hosting The Price Is Right after celebrating his 50-year career on television. Regarded as a pop culture icon, he continued to make occasional appearances for several years into his retirement until 2015.
Barker was born in Darrington, Washington, and spent most of his youth on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Mission, South Dakota. The U.S. Indian Census Rolls, 1885–1940, list Barker as a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. His mother, Matilda ("Tillie") Valandra (née Matilda Kent Tarleton), was a school teacher; his father, Byron John Barker, was the foreman on the electrical high line through the state of Washington. As Barker's father was one-quarter Sioux, and his mother non-Native, Barker was one-eighth Sioux. Barker attended the grade school on the Rosebud Reservation where his mother was a teacher. He once said, "I've always bragged about being part Indian, because they are a people to be proud of. And the Sioux were the greatest warriors of them all."
Barker met his future wife, Dorothy Jo Gideon, at an Ella Fitzgerald concert while he was attending high school in Missouri; they began dating when he was 15. He attended Drury College (now Drury University) in Springfield, Missouri, on a basketball athletic scholarship. He was a member of the Epsilon Beta chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity at Drury. He joined the United States Navy Reserve in 1943 during World War II to train as a fighter pilot, but did not serve in combat. On January 12, 1945, while on leave from the military, he married Dorothy Jo. After the war, he returned to Drury to finish his education, graduating summa cum laude with a degree in economics.
While attending college in Drury, Barker worked his first media job at KTTS-FM Radio in Springfield. He and his wife left Springfield and moved to Lake Worth Beach, Florida, and he was news editor and announcer at nearby WWPG 1340 AM in Palm Beach (now WPBR in Lantana). In 1950, he moved to California to advance his broadcasting career. He was given his own radio show, The Bob Barker Show, which ran for the next six years from Burbank. He was hosting an audience-participation radio show on KNX (AM) in Los Angeles when game show producer Ralph Edwards, who was looking for a new host to replace Jack Bailey on the daytime-television version of his long-running show, Truth or Consequences, happened to be listening and liked Barker's voice and style.
Barker started hosting Truth or Consequences on December 31, 1956 and continued with the program until 1975.
In early 1972, Mark Goodson and Bill Todman began shopping a modernized revival of The Price Is Right to stations, with Dennis James as host. CBS expressed interest in the series, on one condition: instead of James, Barker would be installed as host. After some initial resistance, Barker instead offered to host another upcoming CBS game show, Jack Barry's The Joker's Wild (which had difficulty finding a host and was scheduled to debut the same day as Price) to allow James to host Price, but CBS rejected this proposal.
On September 4, 1972, Barker began hosting the CBS revival of The Price Is Right.
On October 15, 1987, Barker did what other MCs almost never did then: he stopped using hair dye and let his hair go gray, its natural color by that time.
Barker announced on October 31, 2006, that he would retire from The Price Is Right in June 2007. He taped his final episode on June 6, 2007, with the show airing twice on June 15.
On October 15, 2007, Drew Carey took over hosting duties on the show.
After his retirement, Barker made three return appearances to The Price is Right. He first appeared on the episode that aired on April 16, 2009, to promote his new autobiography, Priceless Memories. He appeared in the Showcase round at the end of the show. Barker made another guest appearance on the show to celebrate his 90th birthday, which aired on December 12, 2013. He announced a contestant for the first time ever on the show, along with one showcase. Barker's last appearance was a surprise appearance on April 1, 2015, for an April Fools' Day switch where he took Carey's place at the show's intro. He hosted the first bid and pricing game of that day before handing the hosting duties back to Carey and later appeared during the showcase.
Barker was married to Dorothy Jo Gideon from 1945 until her death from lung cancer at age 57 in 1981. From 1983 until his death, he was in a long-term relationship with Nancy Burnet, an admitted "radical" animal rights activist nearly 20 years younger than Barker. By mutual decision, Barker and Burnet were never married and lived in separate residences throughout their relationship. He had no children with either woman, stating that he had seen his friends who had poor relationships with their children and felt that he was too busy to properly raise a child; as of 2007, he stated that he had no regrets about his decision.  From the late 2000s onward, Burnet described the relationship as a platonic friendship, even as Barker had become more interested in remarrying; she recalled a 2011 incident where Barker drafted a prenuptial agreement for her lawyer to review and revise as she felt fit, which she refused. Burnet managed Barker's health and diet in retirement.
Barker was a vegetarian. In 1982, Barker began ending The Price Is Right episodes with the phrase: "This is Bob Barker reminding you to help control the pet population – have your pets spayed or neutered." Though Barker had already been dabbling in animal rights before meeting Burnet, his efforts became more aggressive during his relationship with her.
In 1987, Barker requested the removal of fur prizes for the Miss USA pageant and stepped down as host when the producers refused. In 1989, Barker and United Activists for Animal Rights publicly accused several media projects and the American Humane Association of animal mistreatment and condoning animal mistreatment, a tactic which needs update] for libel, slander, and invasion of privacy.[
Barker founded DJ&T Foundation in 1994, named after his late wife and mother, which has contributed millions of dollars to animal-neutering programs and funded animal rescue and park facilities all over the United States. In 2004, Barker donated $1 million (equivalent to $1.5 million in 2022) to Columbia Law School to support the study of animal rights.
In 2009, Barker wrote a letter about three businesses in Cherokee, North Carolina, asking them to close their bear exhibits. He threatened to not attend the 2009 Game Show Awards, where he was to receive a lifetime achievement award, because Betty White would be attending. Although he had previously worked with White, he was feuding with her over the treatment of an elephant at the Los Angeles Zoo. White instead did not attend and pre-recorded her comments that she was scheduled to make about another awardee, Mark Goodson. Also that year, Barker donated $1 million (equivalent to $1.4 million in 2021) to the University of Virginia Law School to support the study of animal rights. He made similar donations to Harvard Law School, Stanford Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, Duke University School of Law, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, and University of California, Los Angeles.
In 2010, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society announced that it had purchased and outfitted a ship to interdict Japanese whaling operations in the Southern Ocean using $5 million (equivalent to $6.7 million in 2022) provided by Barker. The ship was then named the MY Bob Barker, and its existence was first revealed when it helped discover the location of the Japanese whaling fleet.
Barker participated in several PETA public service announcements over the years and, in 2010, he donated $2.5 million (equivalent to $3.4 million in 2022) toward the purchase of office space for the organization in Los Angeles. The Bob Barker Building opened in 2012.
In 1994, former model Dian Parkinson filed a lawsuit against Barker alleging sexual harassment following a three-year affair while working on The Price Is Right. Parkinson, who alleged that she was extorted by threats of firing, later dropped her lawsuit, claiming the stress from the ordeal was damaging her health.
In 1995, model Holly Hallstrom left The Price Is Right and later filed suit against Barker, alleging that the reason she was fired was not so much because of her 14-pound (6.4 kg) medication-mediated weight gain (as documented) but because, to Barker's displeasure, she refused to give false information to the media regarding Parkinson's suit, as she alleges Barker had requested she do. Barker countersued for slander, but Hallstrom prevailed, receiving a settlement in 2005.
In October 2007, Deborah Curling, a CBS employee assigned to The Price Is Right, filed a lawsuit against CBS, Bob Barker, and The Price Is Right producers, claiming that she was forced to quit her job after testifying against Barker in a wrongful-termination lawsuit brought by a previous show producer. Curling claimed that she was demoted to an "intolerable work environment" backstage, which caused her to leave the job. Curling, who is black, also alleged that the show's producers, including Barker, created a hostile work environment in which black employees and contestants were discriminated against. A few months later, Barker was removed from the lawsuit, and in September 2009, the lawsuit was dismissed. Curling's attorney stated that he planned to appeal the dismissal of the lawsuit. In January 2012, the California Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal.
On September 16, 1999, Barker was in Washington, D.C. to testify before Congress regarding proposed legislation that would ban captive elephants from traveling shows, such as circuses. While preparing for the presentation, Barker experienced what he called clumsiness in his right hand. He was admitted to George Washington University Hospital and diagnosed with a partially blocked left carotid artery. Barker underwent carotid endarterectomy to remove the blockage. The procedure went well enough that he was able to return to work within the month.
Three years later, Barker had two additional health crises after taping the 30th-season finale of The Price is Right. While lying in the sun on May 30, 2002, he experienced a stroke and was hospitalized; six weeks later, on July 11, Barker underwent prostate surgery. Both hospitalizations occurred at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. Both surgeries were successful.
Barker had several mild bouts with skin cancer, a result of his frequent tanning. He consulted a dermatologist regularly to make sure any cancers were caught and removed before they spread; they did not pose a threat to his life. During a televised interview, Barker told viewers, "I urge anyone who has spent some time in the sun, whether you're doing it now or not, go to a dermatologist once a year."
On October 20, 2015, two police officers passing Barker's Los Angeles-area home saw him trip and fall on a sidewalk. They called an ambulance which took him to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he received stitches for an injured forehead and was released; he also hurt his left knee.
Barker slipped and hit his head at home on June 19, 2017. His maid drove him to the emergency room, where he was checked and released. His representative said it was not as serious as his earlier fall. In October and November 2018, Barker was rushed to the hospital for severe back pain.
As of 2022, Burnet stated that other than some non-prescription supplements such as collagen and a meal replacement drink to replenish nutrients not found naturally in his vegetarian diet, he took only one prescription medication for his thyroid.
Barker died from natural causes at his home in the Hollywood Hills on August 26, 2023, at the age of 99. He will be interred alongside his wife at Forest Lawn Memorial Park – Hollywood Hills.
Barker's autobiography, Priceless Memories, written with former Los Angeles Times book review editor Digby Diehl, was published on April 6, 2009.