The world has lost a true legend, and animals–as well as PETA–have lost a dear friend. Bob Barker was known for a lot of things, but what meant the most to him, and what he spent most of his life pursuing, was justice for animals.
Only Bob could make a game show sign-off reminding people to spay and neuter their animals into a catchphrase. Only Bob could have the integrity and conviction to quit a two-decade gig with the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants because the shows’ producers insisted on including fur coats in the prize packages, a policy they changed soon afterward. Only Bob could insist that the upholstery in cars given away on “The Price Is Right” be leather-free.
Perhaps Bob’s entertainment background imbued him with a particular empathy for the elephants beaten with bullhooks in circuses, for the orcas languishing in SeaWorld’s cramped tanks, and for the lonely animals in zoos far from their true homes. Bob fought for all of them, with heart, with soul–and with his wallet.
I’ll never forget Bob’s grace and dignity when he made a trip to Cherokee, N.C., to plead for relief for the bears in the reservation’s appalling roadside zoos. Two of the three zoos refused to let Bob in, but everyone else in town clamored to shake his hand and ask for pictures. This warm and gregarious man used the opportunity to talk to residents about how much the bears were suffering in concrete pits and to urge them to speak out.
Bob was witty and charming, but he was also pragmatic. He said he was thrilled to spend nearly $1 million to foot the bill to ship elephants Toka, Thika and Iringa from a Canadian zoo to the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in California.
SeaWorld particularly irked him, and Bob filmed a television spot for PETA asking parents and grandparents to refuse to visit what he called a “dolphin prison” and calling on the theme parks to retire the orcas to protected coastal sanctuaries.
He wrote a letter to the president of CBS asking for a ban on using wild animals in all the network’s programming, saying, “[R]eplace the use of captive wild animals in your shows with the creative, versatile, and humane technology that exists today, such as computer-generated imagery.” Today, CGI has made that transition easy.
When PETA held the grand opening of our Los Angeles office, the Bob Barker Building, the fête was filled with Hollywood celebrities, but Bob was the star. Our West Coast headquarters, filled with his awards, stands as testament to Bob’s profound commitment to making a difference for animals.
When asked how he would like to be remembered, Bob said, “I think I would like to be remembered as a man who loved living things and did everything he could do to make it better for animals. And when he had time, he did a lot of television shows, too.” You got your wish, dear friend.
Ingrid Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.