The Price Is Right’s Bob Barker asks you to “come on down!” one last time.
The man who has made a pretty good living as a game-show host is stepping off the stage after half a century of television work. After 18 years on Truth or Consequences, Bob Barker logged 35 more on The Price Is Right (CBS), the simple yet durable game show in which contestants win big prizes by guessing their to-the-nearest-penny prices. The charismatic Barker will retire in June, and this month he addresses graduates at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, where he once was a nimble forward on a basketball scholarship and where he will now receive his first honorary degree. As he faces retirement, a rather relaxed Barker reflects on the cute girl who suggested he go into television (his late wife, Dorothy Jo), on the thing that makes a good talk-show host, and on how being a staunch vegetarian sustains his life.
Maybe we know the answer to this, but it’s a standard exit question: Why now? In December, I became 83 years old, and I want to retire while I’m still young.
Having done The Price Is Right for, well, forever, are you even equipped to do anything else? Perhaps I’m missing something, but I thought that after you retire, you don’t have to do anything. However, I do have a plan. I’m going into bodybuilding. And eventually, I’ll become governor of the state of California. Actually, after Happy Gilmore, I thought I’d go directly into a movie upon the completion of The Price Is Right. They were going to make Happy Gilmore 2. But Adam Sandler’s doctor has said Adam can’t take another beating like I gave him.
What is it about The Price Is Right that has kept it around so long? Aside from you, of course? We’re an old-fashioned show that has fun. And everyone identifies with prices.
After so long, how do you still seem just as excited as your guests? Booze. No, actually, … well, actually, yeah. Not until I get home, though. In truth, I really do love what I do. Had I not enjoyed it so much, I probably would have retired a long time ago. And I think I’m blessed as far as genes are concerned. I feel good. I’ve had arthroscopic surgery on my knee. I have a torn tendon in my rotator cuff. I have a tilted disk in my back. But I feel great. I eat properly, and I exercise. I’m a vegetarian. I became a vegetarian out of concern for animals, but I wasn’t a vegetarian long before I realized there’s something to that. I don’t think I would have worked for the past five years, probably, were it not for my vegetarian diet.
What convinced you that television was your thing? I’d gotten my first chance to do an audience-participation radio show. And Dorothy Jo, my wife, was at home, and she heard that radio show. And when I went home, she said, “That’s what you should do.” She said, “You did that better than you’ve ever done anything else.” Now, she didn’t say I was good. Just that I was better than I’d ever done anything else. And I set out from that day to do precisely what I’m still doing.
A lot of people don’t know you grew up on an Indian reservation. Rosebud Indian Reservation. A wonderful place. That is a Sioux reservation, and I am part Sioux. I was there in the early ’30s. We had a one-room schoolhouse. Everybody knew everybody. There was no crime. Doors were left unlocked. There are casinos there now, but I haven’t received a penny. So I’m going up there after I retire to find out what’s going on, why I’m not being paid off.
What advice would you give a budding game-show host? To listen. I listen to what the person I’m talking with is saying. I listen to what the contestant says. Some people are so concerned about what they’re going to say next or how they’re going to top this contestant that they’re not really listening.
So what are your thoughts on unscripted programming? I saw Deal or No Deal [NBC] just long enough to see what the show was. I would never have predicted its success, because it’s the same thing time after time. I didn’t think people would like that. But I didn’t think Survivor [CBS] would work either.
Will you miss The Price Is Right? Of course. But this is an appropriate time for me to retire. We still have people lined up, sleeping out there on the sidewalk, to see our show. I want to go out on top.
Is it true that game-show hosts make bad contestants? I would be a terrible contestant, at least on my show. I know nothing about prices. Sometimes when I do interviews, the writer will show up with a brown paper bag and say, “I’m going to test you, Bob.” And I make a fool of myself every time they do it.
Will you help in the process of finding your successor? You haven’t been told? When I leave, not only is The Price Is Right ending, but all television is ending.