The Price Is Rights long time host, Bob Barker, wasn’t above taking matters into his own hands. In 1984, when a contestant’s key became jammed in a prize box’s lock, Bob gave it a swift kick, breaking it in two. “I learned that kick from Chuck Norris,” he said with a mischievous grin.

The unflappable and dapper TV icon, who passed away on August 26, just a few months shy of his 100th birthday, once estimated that more than 40,000 contestants answered the call to “Come on down!” during his 35-year reign on The Price Is Right. Yet the 18-time Daytime Emmy winner’s proudest achievement had little to do with show business. “When he started signing off the show by urging people to spay or neuter their pets, he had no idea he was opening up the floodgates,” Bob’s companion of 40 years, Nancy Burnet, tells Closer. Since the 1990s, the number of shelter pets euthanized in America has dramatically decreased. “That made him very happy,” says Nancy.

Bob spent much of his childhood in Mission, S.D., where his mother taught at a Native American reservation. (Bob was one-eighth Sioux from his father’s side.) “It was like I was growing up in the Old West,” said Bob, who received a college basketball scholarship, which he took advantage of after serving in the Navy during WWII.

By the mid 1940s, he was doing radio and married to his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Jo Gideon, whom he met at age 15. “She was the love of my life,” Bob said.

As the host of The Bob Barker Show on radio, the witty performer enjoyed bantering live with his audience. The creator of Truth or Consequences noted his ability to ad-lib and offered Bob a job hosting on television in 1956. For the next 18 years, Bob’s upbeat, fun loving presence would make Truth or Consequences the number-one show in daytime.

It’s little surprise that Bob, who began simultaneously hosting The Price Is Right in 1972, became one of television’s most visible and popular personalities. In addition to his two game shows, he emceed the Rose Parade, the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants, and the Pillsbury Bake-Off. “In front of the camera, he was just a natural. He enjoyed it so much,” says Nancy. “It was a great blessing for him to be able to spend his life doing something he truly loved.”

Along the way, Bob became sensitive to the plight of shelter pets and abused animals. He credited his wife, Dorothy, for opening his eyes. “She was ahead of her time. She stopped wearing fur coats before anyone was stopping,” Bob said. “She became a vegetarian before people were becoming vegetarian. And I gradually did the same thing with her.” In 1982, Bob began urging his viewers to spay or neuter their pets at the end of every episode of The Price Is Right.

His happy, busy life took a dark turn in 1981 when Dorothy was diagnosed with lung cancer. She died six months later, leaving Bob bereft. He “went into this deep depression and was a totally different person for two to three years,” the star’s half-brother, Kent Valandra, said in 1999. Admitted Bob: “I just tried to stay busy.”

His world brightened after Bob met Nancy Burnet at an animal adoption event in 1983. “I went over to her, introduced myself, and explained that I was trying to find a good home for the dog I had on the leash. Then I asked her if she was married or single,” he recalled in his 2009 memoir Priceless Memories. The pair, who were both committed to animal rights, would remain together for the next 40 years — but never marry. “When we first met, Bob said he was never going to remarry and I said, ‘Perfect, I have no interest in getting married,’” says Nancy, who had been divorced. “But he proposed to me many times. I didn’t want any of it.”

That doesn’t mean the couple weren’t dedicated to each other. As Bob’s health began to wane after a fall in 2015, Nancy remained by his side overseeing his care. “I took care of every single thing, down to how to comb his hair,” says Nancy, who reveals that Bob never stopped caring about his appearance. “He was very particular and felt like he should always be the host.”

Bob never gave up his philanthropy, either. He has willed the bulk of his fortune to “humane organizations and military charities,” reveals Nancy, who adds that his final days were “very peaceful, very comfortable. Quiet and loving.”

Now, the life and career of the TV star, who is being buried beside Dorothy, will be remembered in a special exhibit at the Hollywood Museum. “On our show, we don’t solve the problems of the world,” said Bob. “But hopefully, we can help people forget their problems for an hour.”