By Will Dunham
(Reuters) -Bob Barker, an affable fixture on U.S. television for half a century who hosted the popular game show “The Price Is Right” for 35 years and was a committed animal rights activist, has died at age 99, his publicist said.
The silver-haired Barker, host of “The Price Is Right” from 1972 to 2007, won 19 Daytime Emmy awards, the top U.S. television honors, and also was known for a memorable comic turn playing himself in the hit 1996 film “Happy Gilmore,” beating up a character played by Adam Sandler.
Barker died on Saturday morning of natural causes at his longtime Hollywood Hills, California, home, his publicist Roger Neal said.
Barker gave millions of dollars to pro-animal causes, including donating $5 million for a 1,200-ton ship named the Bob Barker that was operated by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to stop Japanese whaling ships from killing whales off Antarctica.
“The Price Is Right,” in which contestants tried to guess the price of various consumer products and played a slew of games to win prizes, became a U.S. pop culture institution on daytime TV with the smooth-talking Barker at the helm for 6,586 episodes.
A studio announcer would bray “Come on down!” as one by one excited contestants would trot out of a studio audience down to the stage. Exuberant contestants occasionally would bear-hug and even tackle Barker.
“Can I kiss you?” a woman once inquired during a show.
“No, I’m working,” deadpanned Barker, known for his good-natured humor. “Meet me in the parking lot later.”
Over the years, he handed out more than $300 million in cash and prizes like cars, appliances and trips.
“I think TV hosts are like pies and some people like apple and some cherry and some chocolate,” Barker told the Hartford Courant in 2009. “I’m just very fortunate that they liked me well enough to invite me into their homes for 50 years.”
“The Price Is Right” became the longest-running game show on U.S. television. Barker returned to the show in 2013 to mark his 90th birthday and again in 2015 for an April Fools’ Day episode.
Barker was known for pro-animal causes and campaigned for them into his 90s. He would end episodes of “The Price Is Right” by urging viewers to get their pets spayed and neutered to control the animal population and began a foundation to subsidize the practices. He also spoke out against the treatment of animals in zoos, rodeos and circuses.
Barker stopped eating meat in 1979. His hair abruptly became silver when he quit using hair dye because it is tested on animals. In 1987, Barker quit as longtime host of the Miss USA and Miss Universe beauty pageants when pageant officials refused to stop draping contestants in fur coats.
In the film “Happy Gilmore,” Barker played himself in a memorable scene in which he was playing in a golf pro-am tournament with Sandler’s character, an excitable failed hockey player turned golfer. The two come to blows in a wild, extended comic brawl that ended with Barker thrashing Sandler.
They staged another fight for a promotional video in 2015 when Barker, who studied karate with tough-guy actor Chuck Norris, was 91.
In 1994, a woman who worked as a model on “The Price is Right” sued him for sexual harassment but Barker said it was a consensual intimate relationship. The suit later was dropped.
Barker, born on Dec. 12, 1923, in Darrington, Washington, began his career in radio. In 1956, he was hired to host a TV version of the radio quiz show “Truth or Consequences” on NBC, and stayed with the program until 1975. Even before his stint on that show wrapped up, Barker began hosting “The Price Is Right” on CBS.
Barker did not remarry after his wife, Dorothy, died of cancer in 1981.
(Reporting and writing by Will Dunham; Additional reporting by Paul Grant and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Bill Trott and Diane Craft)