SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Bob Barker, one of daytime TV’s biggest game show hosts, beloved national celebrity, and a Missourian, has died at the age of 99 this weekend. He did not always want to be a broadcaster. The Cardinals would have been his first choice.
“I wanted to pitch for the Saint Louis Cardinals. That was my dream,” Barker said during his press conference before retirement. “And the only thing that prevented it was a total lack of talent.”
Barker graduated from high school and college in Springfield, and met his wife there. Barker left the Ozarks in the late 1940s to make his career in California, but returned regularly and made generous donations to his college alma mater, Drury University.
Before he was the face of “The Price is Right,” Barker spent his young adulthood in Springfield, graduating from what is now Central High School in 1941 and attending Drury University (known then as Drury College).
“He was always supportive of Springfield, of the public schools of Drury,” said John Sellars, the Executive Director Emeritus at the History Museum on the Square. “He came back many times. He would grand marshal parades and things like that and was very proud of his time here and the success he had here in Springfield.”
Barker left Drury for a few years to join the Navy Reserve and serve in World War II. After his service ended, he returned to Springfield to finish his degree at the college and landed his first on-air job at KTTS radio, at a time when radio was starting to take off.
Later, he would become the host of a game show called “Truth or Consequences.” His success on the show led to him being selected as the host of “The Price is Right,” a role he held for 35 years.
“He was always very friendly and kind with the people that was on his show. I mean, you know, he did the ‘come on down’ thing and everything,” said Daniel Vaughn, a Bob Barker fan. “You know, and you just wanted to be there, you know, in his presence.”
“I’m glad he lived a good long life, 99. But death is sad, and the absence of his presence is kind of a sobering thought,” said Phillip Wright, another Barker fan. “But my gosh, he made a big impact upon the whole nation with his welcoming smile.”
Barker’s impact stretched even beyond people as he used his platform to advocate for animal rights. He donated to Drury’s animal studies program as well as the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri.
“He is one of the ones that was so grounded,” Sellars said. “And so natural in what his thoughts were and what he did and attempted to do is just amazing, amazing person.”
Whether it’s the smile he put on people’s faces or the animals he helped, Barker’s life and legacy will be remembered in Springfield. A street near Drury’s campus is named Bob Barker Boulevard in his honor.
“I wish we could all smile like Bob Barker,” Wright said.