When news broke this past Saturday of the death of legendary game show host Bob Barker at the age of 99, tributes began flowing quicker than the typical Price is Right contestant’s sprint from their studio seat to their slot on bidder’s row. Nearly everyone of a certain age remembers Bob, whose 35-year run on the iconic program, coupled with his more than 50 years on television in total, catapulted him to household name status. He first began on television in 1956 as host of the game show, “Truth or Consequences.”
“Thanks for getting me thru many a childhood illness and occasional snowstorm,” my friend John wrote on Facebook. Another old neighbor of mine, Johnny, responded with a wry observation, noting, “He got as close to 100 as he could without going over.”
Reviewing the show back in 1983, The New York Times observed:
The contestants on all the shows, meanwhile, are pleasant people. They are also more suburban than urban, more heartland of America than East or West Coast. The shows may originate from Los Angeles, but the contestants often are visitors from somewhere else. Most of them give the impression they are Republican rather than Democratic, and Protestant rather than Roman Catholic or Jewish. They seem to be members of that great constituency called Middle America.
It’s unclear why the Old Grey Lady drew such sweeping conclusions about the political and religious affiliations of the typical “Price is Right” contestant – but it seems to point to the paper’s longstanding animus or indifference towards citizens outside of the East Coast.
As it was, Bob Barker didn’t seem to speak publicly about a personal faith, but nevertheless seemed to emulate the teaching of the Apostle Paul who urged Christians in Rome, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).
Barker once suggested the draw of the show was its relatability to everyone, suggesting pricing is of universal interest since we all have to buy things to live and operate. But the appeal was clearly more personal, beginning with the host’s congenial and welcoming temperament. Maybe that was inspired by his humble upbringing, which included growing up on a Native American reservation where his widowed mother taught school.
The Emmy-award-winning host was also resourceful. Trained to be a fighter pilot during World War II, only to be discharged after peace came in 1945, Barker heard a radio station in Springfield, Mo., was hiring. Knowing the general manager loved airplanes, the newly minted veteran showed up in his uniform, wings and all. He got the job – and his on-air career was off and running.
In 1945, Bob wound up marrying his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Joe Gideon. Once asked how she and Bob remained so happily married for so long (she died in 1981), Dorothy Jo quipped, “I love Bob Barker. And Bob Barker loves Bob Barker.”
Perhaps the lesson there is to never underestimate the ego of an entertainer.
Bob’s good guy image was rocked in 1994 when a former model on “The Price is Right” accused the widower of sexual harassment. Barker claimed the affair was consensual but offered a candid and disappointing explanation.
“She told me I had always been so strait-laced that it was time I had some hanky-panky in my life – and she volunteered the hanky-panky.” The woman eventually dropped the lawsuit.
Many fans of Bob Barker and his record-breaking show will also remember the host’s devotion to and controversial association with animals. He quit as host of the Miss USA Pageant over the show’s insistence on giving fur coats to its winners, and even criticized SeaWorld for its use of whales, dolphins, and other maritime creatures. Some might question Barker’s partnership with certain animal rights’ groups, but it’s hard to quibble with his affinity for and assessment of our canine companions.
“A person who has never owned a dog has missed a wonderful part of life,” the host once said.
Barker stepped away from daily broadcasting duties in 2007 after handing over the storied long microphone to comedian Drew Carey. But he made appearances on anniversary shows, and took bit parts in movies, often playing himself.
Game shows may not be distinctly American, nor, despite what The New York Times once suggested, favored by more conservatives than liberals, or by more Protestants than Catholics. But the near-century-long life and times of Bob Barker have provided all of us with a study of an affable albeit imperfect man, and an individual who seemed to hold strong social convictions when it came to God’s non-human creatures.
Yet, life is no game show, and its worldly prizes will soon be burned up, giving way to new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:10, 13). Bob spent his professional life navigating, hosting, empathizing, and celebrating with contestants in search of dollars and the spoils of one successful “Showcase Showdown” after another.
Bob Barker reportedly asked for no service and will be laid to rest beside his late wife, Dorothy Jo, in Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills. We’re left now hoping Bob sought the greatest of all prizes – a personal relationship with Jesus Christ whose gift of eternal life is available to all and best of all, which is priceless.
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