May 18, 2007 — -- When Bob Barker began hosting the game show "The Price Is Right" a movie ticket was $1.50 and a new car was just $3,500.
A lot has changed since then, but not Barker's personality. His gentle manner and G-rated humor have allowed his popularity to pass from generation to generation. His fans watch what their grandmothers watched. Everyone knows what Plinko is.
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The games and set pieces are straight out of the '70s.
"The biggest change has been the color of my hair," said Barker. "[The show] has not changed because people don't want us to change 'The Price Is Right.'"
Barker has a degree in economics, and after all this time on the show, you'd think he would know the price of everything -- he would be able to guess the price of a gallon of milk, a Big Mac or a Toyota Prius, right?
"$16,000," Barker guessed for a Prius. Buzzzz. Wrong!
The man who became the unlikeliest of things, a game show host, was raised on a Rosebud Sioux Indian reservation in South Dakota. His father died when he was 6. His mother was a schoolteacher.
"We had what amounted to a one-room schoolhouse," said Barker. "This was before television. Radio was in its infancy. And we played baseball in baseball season, football in football season, ran track in track season and played basketball of course."
The picture of a handsome pilot on a magazine cover inspired him to become a Navy fighter pilot in World War II, although the war ended before he saw combat.
In 1945, he married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Jo Gideon. He got into radio to earn money for college and ended up hosting talent shows in Los Angeles.
Ralph Edwards heard Barker on one of those talent shows in 1956 and made him his replacement on the TV game show "Truth or Consequences." Barker went to "The Price Is Right" in 1972, and never tired of it.
"You get a job playing second base for the Yankees, you're going to play second base for the Yankees for as long as you can," he said.
On the show, he keeps a professional veneer. You don't know much about him, except for his famous daily signoff: "Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered."
Barker always loved animals. Childless themselves, Barker and Dorothy Jo campaigned to have household pets neutered so unwanted offspring would not be put down.
He came to feel so strongly about animals that he stopped eating meat -- in fact, a steak repulses him, and he has endowed seven law schools to teach animal rights.
"I think the rights of animals are to live the life that nature intended," he said.
His geniality masks what may be some strong political opinions that he does not want to share, other than to say politicians have disappointed him.
"I don't want to discuss the war in Iraq," he said. "I want to discuss generalities. When I say I'm disappointed in the leadership, I don't mean necessarily George Bush in the White House. I mean during my lifetime there have been very few presidents who did things that really pleased me."
Barker remains skeptical.
"I'm skeptical of all of them from the local level all the way on up to the White House. Yes I am," he said. "Sorry to say that, but yes I am."
For a man who earned a fortune making television, he doesn't care much for watching it.
"I watch the History channel, the international History channel, the Military channel, and I watch the classic movie channel," he said, "and hopefully when I turn it on it will be a black-and-white picture. I really do sound old. And I like sports. All sports. Now that's where TV excels."
Barker's wife Dorothy Jo died in 1981 and Barker fell into several years of depression. Eventually, he had a romance with one of the women on "The Price is Right," Dian Parkinson, and she ended up suing for sexual harassment.
A rash of lawsuits by other employees followed, but all of them, including Parkinson's, were settled out of court.
"You can't be on television for as many hours over the last 50 years as I have that you don't pretty well display what you truly are," he said.
And Barker is a man loved by his viewers and those contestants, some of whom have slept all night on the sidewalk just to get a ticket. They've chased him, hugged him, hoisted him and kissed him.
One day, after a woman chased him around the set, he sat down and said, "I think I've been mugged. I've got to sit down." When the woman moved toward him again, he waved her off with, "No, don't get too close."
The show is taped in advance, but showing the spontaneous moments has always been part of its appeal. Most famously, one contestant's tube top fell off, and that clip has become part of television history.
"And when I came out they were screaming and I thought, 'Well they love me, they love me,'" he said. "Then I realized there was more going on here than I knew."
At the time, Johnny Olson was the announcer for the show. Olson told Barker, "Bob, this girl has given her all for you."
What about those moments when Barker kicked the props to make them work? He was a master of karate, trained by none other than Chuck Norris. Playing himself in the movie "Happy Gilmore," he beat up former hockey player Adam Sandler, and famously said, "The price is wrong, bitch."
That was so unlike the Bob Barker his audience loved, they're still laughing.
"Not a show goes by and someone doesn't bring up 'Happy Gilmore,'" he said, "and then they start, 'Do the line. Do the line.'"
On most days, he does the line.
There's just something about Bob Barker that makes people think he's a friend. But now the show no one wants to change is changing in the biggest way possible -- their friend is leaving.
"It's going to be a tough assignment for someone," Barker said. "Hopefully they'll get the right guy and it will go on and on and on."