When 25 circus lions rescued from Bolivia landed at Denver International Airport last year, Bob Barker—legendary host of The Price is Right, the longest-running game show on American television—was there to welcome them.
Thanks to Barker’s steadfast generosity and activism, last year’s Operation Lion Ark rescue mission (lead by Animal Defenders International) airlifted 29 lions to the United States to live in sanctuaries in Colorado and California. “They’re living the life that nature intended for them to live,” says Barker,” who has been a voice for the animals—and a vegetarian—for 35 years.
On the heels of that mission, ADI recently honored Barker with the Lord Houghton Award for outstanding services to animal welfare at a star-studded event at a private home in the Hollywood Hills. The evening previewed scenes for the forthcoming Lion Ark, a feature-length film documenting the mission.
While you’ll have to stay tuned for the flick, read on to get to know Barker’s activist spirit and must-have recipe for enjoying the golden years.
Q When and why did you go veg?
A I’ve been a vegetarian for about 35 years. My wife, Dorothy Jo, preceded me in becoming a vegetarian. She fixed beautiful dishes that I ate. Gradually I became a vegetarian too. I owe it to her, and I thank her for it, because I think it has really improved my life. I am a staunch believer in it.
I became a vegetarian out of concern for animals, and I was a vegetarian for a very long time before I realized that many people become vegetarians out of concern for their health. I think they are absolutely right. I think it is the healthiest way to live.
I worked until I was 83 years old. The Price is Right is a full hour show. It’s all ad-lib, and requires moving all over a huge stage, doing a different show every day. It was a physical workout and very demanding mentally. I was able to do it until I was 83 for two reasons: 1. being a vegetarian 2. working out regularly.
The answer to enjoying life is nutrition. I recommend that you become a vegetarian and exercise if you want to enjoy the golden years.
Q What do you do for exercise?
A At one time, my workout was karate. I took karate lessons from Chuck Norris before he became an actor. Chuck was a guest on the show Truth or Consequences, which I hosted. I was so impressed that I asked him if he would give me lessons. He used to come to my home and we’d do karate. We started out here on my lawn, and then I started parking my car on the driveway and made the garage into a karate studio. I took lessons for eight years. Then Chuck got into acting and stopped teaching. I then worked with Pat Johnson.
I started doing karate when I was around 45, and I did karate until my early 70s, but to do karate, you have to be very stretched out. I have tried to stay as stretched out as I can. Now, I do push-ups off the wall and light weights with 25-pound dumbbells, and I get on an elliptical machine for cardio. I do something every day.
Q When and why did you become an animal rights advocate?
A That all happened around 35 years ago too. I had always loved animals. I think there are millions of us that are just born with a love for animals from the first day they can remember. You don’t have to learn to love animals; you don’t have to have something special happen to make you love animals. It’s just like the way some people are right handed or left handed. I have sympathy for people who do not enjoy animals. They don’t know how much of life they are missing. I love the work that I do with animals more than anything else I do.
Q You are a strong supporter of the Sea Shepherd Conservation society, which has a boat called the Bob Barker that has made great strides combating the Japanese whaling fleet. How did you get involved in the Sea Shepherd campaign?
A I owe all of that to a wonderful lady named Nancy Burnet. She is the founder of the United Activists for Animal Rights. She told me that they needed some help with a new boat, and suggested that I help. Then I spoke to Paul Watson, and he told me what he planned to accomplish: to sink the Japanese sailing fleet financially. He said that if he had $5 million, he thought he could do it. I thought he could do it too. In addition to the Bob Barker ship, there’s also a Nancy Burnet helicopter, named after Nancy since she’s the one who brought Paul and me together. The helicopter helps keep track of the Japanese fleet. It goes out to look for whalers.
Q Have you shared your life with pets?
A I’ve had all kinds of pets. We used to have a German Shepherd mix. His name was Carlos. My wife used to get up at the crack of dawn and get the newspaper, and one day, there he was. He was abandoned. He didn’t leave her side. He was so happy to be with us.
I have an old Spanish home. There is a balcony all around the front of the house. At one end of the house, Carlos could get up to the roof, which was probably 12 to 15 feet high. He’d go out on the roof and I’d tell him, “Carlos, you are going to fall off there.”
One day, I heard something on the roof. I looked over, and there was Carlos sliding off the roof. He just jumped up and shook himself; it didn’t hurt him a bit.
I was talking to a friend who said, “That must a of a been a dumb dog.”
I said, “That was not a dumb dog. He never got up on the roof again!”
That was one of my dogs.
Now, I have a rabbit. His name is Mr. Rabbit. I knew nothing about rabbits, and I certainly didn’t intend to have one, but my housekeeper came to work one morning with him. He had been abandoned; she found him up the street. He’s a domestic rabbit. He’s white with black ears and little black streak down his nose. He’s all over the house.
He’s 9 years old, and that’s old for a rabbit. The doc tells me it’s because we’re so careful with Mr. Rabbit’s diet. He eats 70 percent hay and very few pellets. In the morning I bring him a breakfast buffet, a special plate. It will have some lettuce, and some parsley on top of that. Around the edge of the dish, I cut up little bits of carrot, banana, and broccoli. But he eats hay all day. He’s a vegetarian.
Q What’s your favorite vegetable-based dish?
A Pasta primavera.
Q What are your favorite vegetables?
A I love broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and asparagus. You know, I don’t know of any vegetable I don’t like. I like them all.
Watch scenes of the forthcoming Lion Ark at lionarkthemovie.com.