At Price Is Right, Barker would win 16 Daytime Emmys, earning prizes for producing and hosting, as well as a lifetime-achievement Emmy awarded in 1999. The year before, after he’d taped 5,000 episodes at Studio 33 at the CBS Television City studio in Hollywood, the network renamed the stage the Bob Barker Studio. In 2003, Barker’s 31st year on the show, he surpassed Tonight Show host Johnny Carson’s record for continuous performances on a single network show. In 2004, he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.
As a living fixture at the network, it’s no wonder Barker felt comfortable enough to incorporate his activism into his seemingly apolitical job—he’d been slowly introduced to animal-rights activism by Dorothy Jo, who was a vegetarian and who politely declined to wear the furs and leather coats Bob had bought her over the years. Soon, he was ending every Price Is Right broadcast by saying, “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.” And he didn’t stop there: in 1987, after he’d hosted the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants for 20 years, he threatened to walk if the Miss USA contestants wore furs. Pageant organizers met his demand, but the next year, when Barker asked them not to give furs as prizes, they balked, and he quit. In 1994, he started the DJ&T Foundation, named for his wife and his mother, which helps subsidize the cost of spaying and neutering pets. Since 2001, he has endowed programs in animal-rights law at such universities as Harvard, Duke, Northwestern, Stanford, U.C.L.A., Columbia, and Georgetown. In 2010, he paid for the renovation and purchase of a Los Angeles building for PETA, which named the building after him.
Barker was also secure enough in his job to become the first game-show host to stop dyeing his hair. The sixtysomething host revealed his natural gray without fanfare one day, returning from vacation after a taped run of dark-haired episodes. A shocked viewer wrote, “Bob, you must have had one hell of a night.” Barker claimed the show’s ratings actually rose after the shift.
Even into his Medicare years, Barker continued to project the virility of a younger man. In 1994, longtime Price Is Right spokesmodel Dian Parkinson sued him and the show for sexual harassment, claiming the host had coerced her into a sexual relationship in 1990, when he was 66. Barker, who’d lost Dorothy Jo to lung cancer in 1981 after 36 years of marriage, acknowledged the intimate relationship with Parkinson but claimed it was consensual. She dropped the sexual-harassment suit in 1995.
Barker, who’d studied karate under Chuck Norris, gained a new generation of fans when, after 46 years in Hollywood, he made his film debut in 1996’s Happy Gilmore. In a celebrated sequence, the 72-year-old Barker, playing himself, beats up 29-year-old Adam Sandler (as the title character) in a brawl on a golf course. The comic throw-down earned Barker an MTV Movie Award for best fight sequence. The emcee also credited himself with turning the former Saturday Night Live comic into a movie star. “Nobody heard of Adam Sandler until I beat him up,” he boasted.
Barker was 83 when he finally handed over The Price Is Right to Drew Carey in 2007. “I wanted to retire while I’m still young,” he quipped. Even in his retirement, he’d still pop up on The Price Is Right on special occasions well into his 90s.
For all the fame and all the millions he’d earned by giving away millions to strangers, Barker never seemed to lose his common touch. He insisted that he was as ordinary as his fans. “They treat me as if I were a next-door neighbor. I’ve never been a cowboy or a detective or a doctor on television. I’ve been Bob Barker. They’ve seen my hair go gray.” As a result, he said, fans had an easy, jokey rapport with him, stopping him on the street and asking if he had a refrigerator to give away. “I love it. It means they watch me.”