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Longtime 'Price Is Right' host Bob Barker dies at 99

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Game show host Bob Barker has died at the age of 99. Barker, whose career spanned more than eight decades, was best known as the longtime host of "The Price Is Right" on CBS. NPR's Amy Nicole Blaszyk has this remembrance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHEILA COLE'S "THE PRICE IS RIGHT THEME")

AMY NICOLE BLASZYK, BYLINE: Bob Barker started hosting "The Price Is Right" back when Richard Nixon was in the White House. Thirty years later, the 80-something host of the longest-running game show in history still taped five shows a week. He told NPR in 2005 he dreaded his last day at work.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BOB BARKER: I don't know how I will react when I know that I'm not going to get up in the morning and go into the studio and do a show, and it's hard to walk away from it. It's just hard to walk away from it, so I don't. I walk to it every day.

BLASZYK: Born in 1923, Barker grew up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where his mother was a schoolteacher.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BARKER: I wanted to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals. That was my dream. And the only thing that prevented it was a total lack of talent.

BLASZYK: Instead, Barker pitched in with the World War II effort. He served as a Navy fighter pilot, although never saw combat. After the war, he returned to finish college and took a job hosting a radio show in Los Angeles that eventually launched his career. His next job, which lasted for 18 years, was on TV, hosting...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES")

BARKER: Truth...

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN)

BARKER: ...Or consequences.

BLASZYK: Bob Barker's time hosting "Truth Or Consequences" is twice the average lifetime for most TV stars. And for him, that was just a warmup. It was Barker's role on "The Price Is Right" that cemented his fame. From 1972 on, his face was a familiar presence in the living rooms of everyone from little old ladies to kids home sick from school. Barker even had a following among college students who claimed to set class schedules around the show. A group of students at the University of Virginia founded the Disciples of Bob Barker. They made a pilgrimage to the show's taping in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE PRICE IS RIGHT")

BARKER: And they are Disciples of Bob Barker. Now, I have Matthew. Is Mark, Luke, John - are you out there?

(LAUGHTER)

BLASZYK: The show's simple format, people trying to guess the price of common household products from Windex to washing machines, appealed to fans, and the show didn't change much over four decades. Neither did the host, except once, when Barker stopped dyeing his hair. Seemingly overnight, he went from dark hair to white.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BARKER: The audience just gasped, and I got a card from a man in the Midwest. He said, Bob, you must have had one hell of a night.

BLASZYK: As a pop icon, Barker landed cameo appearances on TV shows like "Futurama" and "Family Guy" and a few movie roles. He played himself in the 1996 movie "Happy Gilmore." And in one scene, Barker, a karate black belt in real life, teaches star Adam Sandler a memorable lesson in manners.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HAPPY GILMORE")

ADAM SANDLER: (As Happy Gilmore) You like that, old man? You want a piece of me?

BARKER: (As himself) I don't want a piece of you. I want the whole thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF PUNCHING)

BARKER: They were talking about making "Happy Gilmore 2." And Adam's doctor said that he didn't think Adam could take another beating like I gave him.

BLASZYK: Barker used his fame for another great passion - promoting animal rights. In 1988, after 21 years hosting the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, Barker resigned when producers refused to eliminate fur coats from prize packages. He established and endowed a foundation funding spaying and neutering services across the U.S. And in recent years, Barker donated large sums to various law schools to promote the study of animal rights. Each day, he ended "The Price Is Right" with the same words.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE PRICE IS RIGHT")

BARKER: Bob Barker, reminding you to help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered.

BLASZYK: Barker earned more than a dozen Emmys and was twice named TV's most durable performer by Guinness World Records. The St. Louis Cardinals never knew what they missed.

Amy Nicole Blaszyk, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Amy Blaszyk
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