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Why Bob Barker Reportedly Called Betty White His "Sworn Enemy"

The two TV icons and animal lovers clashed over the fate of an elephant named Billy.

For most people, hearing the names Bob Barker and Betty White together would bring to mind the things the two stars had in common—being beloved entertainment icons and animals lovers who lived until the age of 99. (White passed away in December 2021, while Barker died on Aug. 26, 2023.) But, while they both conjure up warm memories for their fans, Barker and White's own relationship was not a friendly one. In fact, it was their love for animals that divided them and reportedly led Barker to call White his "sworn enemy."

The conflict between the game show host and comedic actor involved an elephant named Billy at the Los Angeles Zoo, who has now outlived them both. Read on to find out how one large mammal led to a long-running Hollywood feud.

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There was a dispute over where Billy should live.

Billy the Elephant in the Los Angeles Zoo in 2009
David McNew/Getty Images

In the late '00s, there was a debate over whether Billy the elephant should stay at the Los Angeles Zoo—which was planning a $42 million renovation of its elephant enclosure—or be moved to a sanctuary. As reported by Los Angeles Magazine, in 2007, a group of citizens filed a lawsuit petitioning the city to send Billy to a sanctuary, because they were concerned about his mental wellbeing after he was seen rocking back and forth in his pen. The zoo stated that Billy was healthy.

Eventually, celebrities became involved in Billy's cause, including Barker, Cher, Halle Berry, and Lily Tomlin, who all advocated for the elephant to be moved to the sanctuary. White, who had been a longtime supporter of the Los Angeles Zoo, was on the other side of the issue, as was Guns N' Roses musician Slash, according to Today.

White and Barker were outspoken about their differing opinions.

Betty White visiting Billy the elephant in 2008
Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Barker and White made their feelings about what they thought was best for Billy clear. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, in 2009, Barker offered to pay the $1.5 million it would take to transfer Billy to the sanctuary, Performing Animal Welfare Society, which is located in San Andreas, California. According to The Wrap, Barker spent millions of dollars during his life to help animals be transported to the sanctuary.

Meanwhile, White wrote in the zoo's magazine (via Los Angeles Magazine), "It will not stop with elephants. Giraffes will be next. If they win this battle, they will not stop until zoos themselves are extinct." The Wrap explains that White's argument was that animals in zoos raise awareness for the issues their wild counterparts face, including extinction.

In the end, the zoo came out on top, and Billy remains there to this day. Discussions about whether or not he should be moved have raged on.

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Barker planned to boycott an awards show because White would be there.

Bob Barker at the Daytime Emmys in 2007
s_buckley / Shutterstock

The Wrap reports that while Billy's relocation was still making headlines, Barker threatened to skip the 2009 Game Show Awards—at which he was set to be honored with a lifetime achievement award—if White attended. White ended up pre-recording comments that she was asked to give during the show, and Barker attended in person.

White reportedly tried to make up with Barker.

Betty White holding a puppy at the Old Navy Nationwide Search for a New Canine Mascot in 2006
s_bukley / Shutterstock

The National Enquirer reported in 2013 that White was hoping to make up with Barker, even though he reportedly called her his "sworn enemy."

"She believes that just because they don't see eye to eye on every issue doesn't mean they can't be civil to each other," a source said. The source also told the outlet that White sent Barker a birthday gift with a note. "She wrote, 'We don't have to agree on every­thing, but we can listen to each other's opinions. Maybe a couple of old dogs could teach each other some new tricks.'"

But, the source continued, "Bob is unflinch­ing in his position that elephants don't belong in zoos. As long as Betty remains a zoo advocate, he feels they have nothing to talk about."

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Another animal brought them together.

Barker and White could not find common ground when it came to Billy, but they were both similarly outraged when it came to the 2015 killing of Cecil the lion. Cecil was killed in Zimbabwe by an American dentist named Walter Palmer. He was a protected lion who was being studied by the University of Oxford. As reported by The Washington Post, Palmer claimed that he believed his hunting trip followed protocol and that he did not know Cecil was protected.

"How they can see this gorgeous creature, this perfect specimen of everything the king of the jungle should be, and he just blows him away," White told Entertainment Tonight. "With no appreciation of what it represents or how much we're losing and how many species just won't be here anymore." Asked what she thought should happen to Palmer, White responded, "You really wanna know? Anything loose, cut off."

As for Barker, he told ET that he thought Palmer should be jailed in Zimbabwe. (Palmer did not end up being charged with anything.) "Oh, it's sickening," the Price Is Right host said. "I understand that his patients are lining up to cancel their appointments and well deserved. If he were my dentist I would never set eyes on him again. And why shoot him with a bow and arrow first and then that didn't finish him off, he shoots him with a rifle? It's another thing that is disgusting."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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