Bob Barker's incredible TV reign, as host of "The Price Is Right," daytime's top-rated and longest-running game show, for three decades is in and of itself a virtually unmatched feat in the medium. (By comparison, Johnny Carson logged in a mere 29 1/2 years as a late-night host.) But when adding Barker's earlier, 18-year stint as host of the quiz show "Truth or Consequences," that means his familiar tan-and-smiling face had been a daily presence on the tube for half a century — a record that's unlikely to be broken.
Barker's astonishing small-screen career has done more than just transform him into an "entertainment icon," as CBS President of Entertainment Nina Tassler put it. It's also paved the way for him to become an unlikely national advocate for animal rights and, on a less serious note, to achieve almost cult-like status among college-aged males that lasts to this day if for no other reason than his bit role in Adam Sandler's "Happy Gilmore." (If you've seen it, you know the line.)
But TV's Iron Man had been accumulating rust. Heart ailments, prostate surgery, a torn rotator cuff, a bad knee and a tilted back disc slowed his famous gait across Stage 33 at CBS' Television City.
After 6,586 episodes, Barker taped his final show in June 2007: He laid down his trademark long-stem microphone, oversaw his last twirl of the wheel, congratulated his last showcase winner and bid television a fond farewell.
His departure meant the loss of one of the last active national links to a long-gone media era. During the span of Barker's career — not without its controversies, including a spat of lawsuits claiming sexual harassment and discrimination — the medium has evolved from a vacuum-tubed "Leave It to Beaver" mentality that ran test patterns in the early morning hours to a voracious YouTube universe that churns out 24-hour-a-day HD programming.
Bob Barker's first major break reads like a Hollywood fable. In 1950, he headed west with no job, no agent, no contacts, just a dream to become an entertainment star. After struggling for half a dozen years in L.A. radio jobs, Barker finally landed an audience-participation radio program that showcased his talent for making people laugh.
By chance, game show producer Ralph Edwards tuned into the show while driving the Los Angeles freeways and soon after offered Barker a television job hosting "Truth or Consequences." The year was 1956.
"That was, that is and that will always be the most important call of my professional life," said Barker, who joined Edwards for a toast every Dec. 21 at 12:05 p.m. — the time of the offer — until his death in 2005. "All the wonderful things that have happened to me since started with that phone call from Ralph."