Bob Barker said his final goodbye on The Price Is Right the same way he always did, with the gentle reminder, “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.”
The beloved game-show host, who just retired after 50 years on television—35 of those spent as the master of ceremonies on The Price Is Right—made TV history. The Price Is Right is the longest-running game show ever and it helped earn Barker 17 Emmy Awards (he is up for two more Emmys on June 15). In 2004, Barker was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.
But for me, Mr. Barker’s off-screen achievements helping animals are just as important as what he accomplished while in front of the cameras.
For 10 years, I worked in the marketing department at CBS. My department worked in conjunction with the production company to supply prizes for The Price Is Right. Contestants might win microwave ovens and pinball machines, but they wouldn’t win fur coats. As a longtime animal crusader, Mr. Barker wouldn’t allow it. He is such an adamant fur foe, he famously resigned from the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants in 1988—after serving as the host for two decades—because the shows’ producers insisted on including fur coats in the prize packages. Ratings for the first Miss USA Pageant without Barker plunged 29 percent from the previous year.
Mr. Barker wouldn’t allow leather interiors in those brand-new cars that The Price Is Right gives away. He knows that leather is as cruel as fur and is linked to the suffering of the slaughterhouse, where cows are hacked apart piece by piece—sometimes while they are still conscious and able to feel pain. Out of respect for Barker’s commitment to vegetarianism, meat products were never advertised on the show.
In addition to his on-air reminders to spay and neuter companion animals, Mr. Barker regularly featured animals available for adoption from local groups. The animal-adoption segments were almost more popular than Plinko, Cliff Hangers and the show’s dozens of other games—I remember staffers from all over the CBS building going down to Stage 33 to see that week’s lucky adoptee.
Mr. Barker is willing to do whatever it takes to help make the world a kinder place for animals—from donating a vegetarian recipe to PETA for a celebrity cookbook to donating millions of his own money to law schools across the country to establish animal law programs.
In 1995, he established the DJ&T Foundation (named for his late wife, Dorothy Jo, and his mother, Matilda, known as “Tilly”) to fund low-cost spay and neuter clinics. He has spoken out for animals suffering in circuses and appeared before the Los Angeles City Council to plead with officials to send the L.A. zoo’s ailing elephants to a sanctuary. Ruby, the zoo’s oldest elephant, won her freedom in May and is now in a 70-acre sanctuary in Northern California.
Just this month, a California spay-and-neuter bill that Mr. Barker publicly supported passed the State Assembly and has moved on to the Senate.
When asked how he would like to be remembered, Barker told MSNBC, “I think I would like to be remembered as a man who loved living things and did everything he could do to make it better for animals. And when he had time, he did a lot of television shows, too.”
Daytime TV fans (and kids home sick from school) will certainly miss Barker’s genial manner and gentle humor. I will too. But I’m heartened by news reports that Mr. Barker plans to spend his retirement doing even more to promote animal rights. Animals need him and I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next.
Bruce Wieland works in the Los Angeles office of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.