Powered by his lifelong legacy as an entertainer and animal activist, this icon is still going strong at 99

A lot unfolded in 1972. Don McLean’s anthem “American Pie” ruled the charts, Richard Nixon presided over the nation amidst the Watergate Scandal, NASA initiated its Space Shuttle program, and Bob Barker, the iconic host of “The Price is Right,” was doling out shiny new cars on his game show.

Synonymous with the beloved game show, Bob Barker stands as an entertainment legend, a name woven into the fabric of households across generations, having helmed the show for an impressive 35 years.

And this year, Barker celebrates a remarkable milestone: a century of life. Hailing from an Indian reservation in South Dakota, Barker, a member of the Sioux Tribe, encountered his future wife, Dorothy Jo Gideon, at an Ella Fitzgerald concert. They tied the knot in 1945, during Barker’s stint in the United States Navy Reserve amid World War II, where he trained as a fighter pilot. Though he didn’t serve in active duty, he pursued higher education and earned a degree in economics.

At the age of 99, Barker was hosting a radio program in Los Angeles when he caught the eye of Ralph Edwards, a game show producer seeking a new face for “Truth or Consequences,” the pioneering TV game show. From 1956 to 1975, Barker’s star soared with the success of the show. Additionally, starting in 1967, he ventured into hosting the prestigious Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants.

Then, in 1972, his fate took a turn as he stepped onto the stage of “The Price is Right,” propelling both himself and the show into the stratosphere of fame. The show went on to become the longest-running game show in history, a record it still holds. Barker, assuming the role of executive producer in 1988, clinched an impressive 14 Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Game Show Host, along with four Emmys for his executive producer role.

In a conversation with the Television Academy Foundation in 2008, Barker attributed much of his success to his late wife, emphasizing how she instilled in him the confidence to pursue his dreams. Despite her passing from lung cancer in 1981, after 36 years of marriage, Barker never considered remarriage. However, he found companionship with Nancy Burnet, his partner of 40 years. Burnet, now 79, attributes Barker’s good health to his limited use of medications over the years, jesting about his sole prescription for his thyroid.

Approaching his 99th birthday in December, Burnet remarked on Barker’s exceptional health for his age, mentioning his resilience in overcoming past health challenges, including a stroke in 2002, prostate surgery, skin cancer, and back problems. Despite these hurdles, Barker’s spirit remains buoyant, his humor intact, as he continues to relish life’s journey.

Burnet details her intervention, aiding Barker, a long-time vegetarian, in boosting his strength with supplements. “It was not to replace meals but to enhance everything. To take that in addition to his meals because he was not doing well. He was looking tired and kind of frail, not just not looking healthy. And, you know, if you’re going to be a vegetarian and vegan, you better know what you’re doing.”

After retiring from his role on “The Price is Right,” now hosted by comedian Drew Carey, Barker made a few guest appearances, including one in 2013 on his 90th birthday. Burnet commented on his time on the show, saying, “He never grew tired of it. I’m not sure I could do the same show every day. But he never grew bored with it. So maybe that’s why it was so successful because he was always ready to do it and happy to do it.” This sentiment was also echoed by Barker himself on Good Morning America in 2007: “I am really not ready to say goodbye to it. So, I think it’s a good time to say goodbye because I want to leave them wanting more.”

Barker left the show with numerous memorable moments, from Vanna White competing on “The Price is Right” before her fame on “Wheel of Fortune” to women contestants losing their tops after jumping up and down in excitement. However, the greatest impact he made was in raising awareness for animal welfare.

As an advocate for animal rights, Barker became known for his show-ending catchphrase, “This is Bob Barker reminding you to help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.” He attributed his inspiration for animal activism to his late wife, Gideon, describing her as ahead of her time in her advocacy against fur coats and adoption of a vegetarian lifestyle.

Through his DJ&T Foundation, named after Gideon and his mother, Matilda or “Tilly,” both animal lovers, Barker has donated millions, successfully establishing animal-rights curricula at esteemed law schools such as Harvard, Columbia, and Northwestern. He emphasized the importance of educating young people about animal exploitation and mistreatment, advocating for legislative change when education and encouragement fall short.

Burnet, whom Barker met at an animal adoption event he hosted in 1983, shares his passion for animal advocacy, campaigning alongside him against animal entertainment. In almost a century of life, Bob Barker has left an indelible mark on the world, using his celebrity status to champion the cause of innocent animals—a true exemplar of compassion and influence.