Peggy Keener: Universal friend to man and beast

Published 5:40 pm Friday, December 29, 2023

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“Come on down!” Over the years these iconic words were ubiquitously shouted by Bob Barker, the host of the longest running game show in American history—”The Price is Right.” During its very lengthy and successful run (1972-2007), Barker handed out left and right a myriad of things including shiny new refrigerators. Lamentably, Barker died this year on August 26, 2023. He was 99 years old. Although he will always be known as a TV personality par excellence, who among us knew that he was also an incredibly generous animal activist?

Bob Barker was born into a family of modest means in Darrington, Washington. His father was one-quarter Sioux and his mother was a non-native, making Barker one-eighth Sioux. He attended grade school on the Rosebud Reservation. For his entire life he proclaimed how proud he was of being part Sioux because, after all, the mighty Sioux were the greatest warriors of all!

Upon graduation he went to Drury University on a basketball scholarship. This was interrupted by WWII when he joined the U.S. Navy Reserves. There he was trained to be a fighter pilot although he never actually served in combat. After the war, Bob returned to Drury where he graduated summa cum laude with a degree in economics.

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Following college Bob had a string of broadcasting gigs. In Burbank, CA in 1950, he had his own radio program “The Bob Barker Show.” It ran for six years. During that time, a game show producer (Ralph Edwards), happened to be listening and liked Barker’s voice and style. On the spot he hired him to star in the daytime TV version of the long running show “Truth or Consequences.”

Barker stayed with it for nearly twenty years. In 1972, he began hosting “The Price is Right.” Fifteen years into the show, he did what no other MC had ever done. He stopped using hair dye and let it go naturally gray. In June of 2007, with a head of silver hair, he retired.

For 36 years Bob Barker was married to Dorothy Jo Gideon who died of lung cancer at the age of fifty-seven. Some years later he joined in a long-term relationship with Nancy Burnet who was 20 years younger and an admitted “radical” animal rights activist. By mutual agreement, they never married, but lived in separate residences throughout their long and devoted relationship. Barker never had children, explaining that he felt he was too busy to properly raise a child. He never regretted this decision.

Barker was a vegetarian who consistently concluded “The Price is Right” episodes with, “This is Bob Barker reminding you to help control the pet population by spaying and neutering your pets.”

In 1989, Barker and the United Activists for Animal Rights publicly accused several media projects, including the American Human Association, for the mistreatment of animals. It resulted in a $10 million suit against Barker for slander, libel and invasion of privacy. Next came a stream of charitable giving. In 1994, he funded animal rescue and park facilities all over the U.S. In 2004, Barker donated today’s equivalent of $1.5 million to Columbia Law School to support the study of animal rights. He later gave similar donations to Harvard Law School, Stanford Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, Duke University School of Law, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, and the University of California in Los Angeles.

In 2010, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society announced that it had purchased and outfitted a ship to interdict Japanese whaling operations in the Southern Ocean. The project was funded by Barker to today’s equivalent of $5 million. The ship was named “My Bob Barker” and it became the ship that discovered the secret location of the Japanese whaling fleet.

Over the years Barker also participated in several PETA public service announcements and donated $3.4 million toward the office space for PETA in Los Angeles. The Bob Barker Building opened in 2002.

For nearly forty years, PAWS has been successful in advocating on behalf of and providing sanctuary for captive wild animals in its 2,300 acre captive wildlife habitat in San Andreas, CA. Barker was responsible for much of its success. There elephants, big cats, and bears are cared for, as well as animals rescued from zoos, circuses, and the exotic animal trade. Without hesitation, Bob was always extremely generous with his time, knowledge and resources. One time he arranged for the U.S. Air Force to airlift an adult African elephant out of Alaska and into the sanctuary. He picked up the tab. He also funded the Bob Barker Bear Habitat at the ARK 2000 sanctuary.

Barker changed the public’s perception of pet overpopulation for the benefit of companion animals everywhere. He even left lucrative television jobs such as the Miss American Pageant because the show featured furs.

America —the world! — has so much to thank Bob Barker for. Where animals could not speak, he gave them a voice. So, as the new year unfolds, keep your ears perked— especially if you’re in need of a new refrig—’cuz the ghost of Bob Barker might just be calling in your direction …. “Come on down!!