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Saturday, August 26, 2023

bob-barker-price-is-right-obit - The Washington Post

Bob Barker, unflappable 'Price is Right’ emcee, dies at 99

"The suave and self-assured master of ceremonies moved easily from radio in the late 1940s to television during its infancy and was a daytime star well into the Internet age

Bob Barker on the set of “The Price is Right” in 1985. (Lennox McLendon/AP)

Bob Barker, an unflappable television emcee who rode the airwaves into American living rooms for half a century, hosting holiday parades and beauty pageants, luring contestants into ludicrous stunts on the game show “Truth or Consequences” and presiding over the materialistic bacchanal of “The Price is Right,” died Aug. 26 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 99.

His publicist Roger Neal confirmed the death but did not disclose a cause.

By the time he stepped down in 2007 after 35 years with “The Price Is Right,” Mr. Barker had completed a remarkable run as a television master of ceremonies.

Tall, self-assured, deeply tanned — and eventually snowy-haired — he moved easily from radio in the late 1940s to television during its infancy and was a daytime star well into the internet age. In addition to his game show duties, he was the longtime host of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Pillsbury Bake-Off and the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., among other events.

In 1996, he spoofed his blandly reassuring persona in the film comedy “Happy Gilmore” by brutally attacking and verbally lashing Adam Sandler’s obnoxious character at a golf tournament.

Mr. Barker, who had long contributed to animal-related charities, gained national attention for his animal rights activism. In 1988, he severed his long ties with the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants after organizers declined his request to remove fur coats from prize packages. Later, he started a foundation to promote the spaying and neutering of domesticated animals.

The Hollywood-based game show agent Fred Wostbrock once called Mr. Barker’s career “monumental” for its longevity in a notoriously fickle industry. His presence on TV was rivaled, but not exceeded, by Johnny Carson’s nearly 30-year run as host of “The Tonight Show.” Moreover, Wostbrock said, Mr. Barker was among a select few who thrived without cue cards.

The longtime radio and television host Ralph Edwards was an early mentor to Mr. Barker and selected him in 1956 to preside over the NBC TV show “Truth or Consequences.” Audience members were called upon to answer strange questions or shopworn jokes (“Why was the wife concerned because her husband was a light drinker? Every night he’d drink until it got light.”). The penalty for a wrong answer was an absurd stunt. Many contestants chose to throw their turn for a moment to do something silly on national TV.

“The Price Is Right” debuted on NBC in 1957 with host Bill Cullen guiding contestants, who were plucked from a studio audience, through a series of “bids” in which they guessed the retail price of merchandise and other prizes — cars, furniture, stoves, vacations. Mr. Barker took over in 1972 and, except for brief respites, remained host until announcing his retirement. He was succeeded by comedian and actor Drew Carey.

Mr. Barker said the most challenging part of his job was protecting himself from elated game-show participants summoned to “Contestants’ Row” with the announcer’s signature catchphrase “Come on down!” He suffered broken toes when a hopping contestant landed on his foot and dental damage when a short contestant locked him in a bear hug and jumped up and down under his chin.

“I once had a Samoan woman pick me up as if I were a child and just throw me around,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2007. “Frankly, I was terrified, but I thought, ‘Well, that will never happen again.’

“Believe it or not, the next year another Samoan came to Contestants’ Row, got on stage, picked me up and threw me around,” he continued. “Now another year or so passes, and a third Samoan shows up. I had her raise her right hand and swear that if she got on stage, she would not lay a hand on me. Well, she got on stage. She won a car and picked me up higher than either one of the other two had.

“I used to describe the Rose Parade for CBS and there were various broadcast booths all along the top of the bleachers, and as I’m walking by, a guy from up in a booth that said ‘Samoa’ across it yelled down at 5 a.m. on New Year’s Day, ‘Hey, Bob! I’ve got a woman up here who wants to pick you up.’ I walked faster and got away from there.”

Robert William Barker was born on Dec. 23, 1923, in Darrington, Wash., where his father was a foreman on a power-line project. He died after a work-related fall in 1929, and Bob was raised by his mother for a time on an Indian reservation in Mission, S.D.

She later married a tire salesman, and the new family relocated to Springfield, Mo., where Mr. Barker met Dorothy Jo Gideon. They were married for 36 years, until her death in 1981. Survivors include his companion, Nancy Burnet; and a half brother.

In his 2009 autobiography, “Priceless Memories,” written with Digby Diehl, Mr. Barker revealed that he enlisted in the Navy as an aviation cadet during World War II “purely out of vanity.” He saw a recruitment poster featuring a “terrific looking guy” with “a deep, dark tan” and thought, “If I am going to war, I want to go to war looking like that guy.”

He earned his wings as a fighter pilot in 1945 and was about to be assigned overseas when World War II ended. After his military service, he received an economics degree from Drury University in Springfield. He landed his first radio job in college. Having heard that the station manager was an aviation buff, he wore his Navy uniform to the interview — and was hired on the spot.

A series of radio jobs took him to Los Angeles, where he said Edwards heard him on a talent-show program over a car radio.

Mr. Barker took over as host of “Truth or Consequences” from Jack Bailey and briefly did overlapping duty on that show and “The Price is Right.” During his long career on “The Price is Right,” he and producers were sued by a series of merchandise models.

The most prominent lawsuit, in 1994, was brought by Dian Parkinson, who alleged in a claim that she had been coerced into a sexual relationship with Mr. Barker and that she had no option but to quit her job as a result. A judge dismissed her wrongful termination claim but allowed her to proceed with claims of sexual harassment and emotional distress.

“She told me that I had been so strait-laced and that it was time I had a little hanky-panky in my life, and she volunteered the hanky-panky,” Mr. Barker said at the time in denying the harassment accusations. “It was a case of two middle-aged consenting adults having sex.”

Parkinson withdrew her suit in 1995, saying she did not have the “power and resources” to continue suing Mr. Barker and the show’s production company. Several other cases against Mr. Barker and the producers were settled out of court, a decision Mr. Barker attributed to the show’s owners over the years.

The cases did little to injure Mr. Barker’s professional reputation. He won nearly 20 Daytime Emmy awards for hosting and executive producing and received a Lifetime Achievement Emmy. He was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Trim and fit well into his senior years, Mr. Barker had studied karate with Chuck Norris and never lost his fondness for tanning, despite brushes with skin cancer. In 1987, he overcame what he acknowledged was a strong ego to appear on air with his natural gray hair.

When he stepped down from “The Price is Right,” he quipped to reporters: “The question that I’m hearing most often is why did I choose to retire just now. In December, I became 83 years old, and I want to retire while I’m still young.”

bob-barker-price-is-right-obit - The Washington Post

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