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Rick Barber, R.I.P.: Family reacts to death of longtime KOA host battling ALS

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Update: After the publication of our original post, we received a statement about Rick Barber's passing from his family. Here it is:

Longtime Denver radio talk show host Rick Barber passed away early this morning in Denver following complications as a result of ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. Barber was 67.

The U.S. Army veteran began his radio work in the 1960s, fulfilling a long-time passion for radio that began as a teenager in Rhode Island. Barber first came to Colorado and KWGN in early 1970s with positions to follow at KWBZ and KDEN. Following stints in Wyoming and New Mexico, Barber came back to Denver in 1982 and took a seat in the overnight chair on KOA. Rick also did television in the Denver market, as well.

"The Rick Barber Show" aired for an unprecedented thirty years.

Rick's final show on 850 KOA was in early 2012.

"He was a facilitator of topics and education -- that's what his show was all about. He always considered his show a radio magazine, and not just a talk show. Dad loved his listeners," said son Ian Barber.

In his final interview, Rick Barber talked about his time on the air.

"My footprint should be somebody who made you laugh, made you feel comfortable, made you feel good. That's how I want to be remembered. I want them [the audience] to think of me as the guy who did it my way. Including going out: my way. "

Barber was a passionate supporter of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, loved to teach journalism and was an avid Beatles and jazz fan.

The family appreciates the outpouring of support and well wishes but at this time would like to ask for privacy as they deal with a difficult situation.

Funeral services are pending.

In lieu of flowers and to show your support, the family asks that contributions be sent in Rick's name and memory to the ALS Association, Rocky Mountain chapter. For more information: http://webco.alsa.org/site/PageServer?pagename=CO_homepage

Original post, 10:35 a.m. April 12: In January 2012, Rick Barber, who began hosting KOA's overnight shift thirty years earlier, found himself out of a job, replaced by syndicated programming amid budget cuts and sinking revenue.

Most people would react angrily to such an ouster, but Barber responded with gratitude and class, just as fans from across North America who'd listened for decades would have expected. And according to a longtime friend, he's facing a diagnosis of ALS, often known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, in much the same way.

We profiled Barber in the 2000 Message column entitled "At 3 a.m., KOA's Rick Barber is the only game in town," and the headline wasn't exaggerated. Even then, when terrestrial radio was relatively healthy and profitable, especially compared to now, no other local station broadcast live and local talk all night long. And thanks to KOA's 50,000 watt signal -- the outlet's nickname is "The Blowtorch" -- his program could be heard over much of the continent. A post on last year's item about his departure from the station put his reach into perspective. A listener wrote, "I am situated in Yorkton, Sask. Canada, about 200 miles north of the border, same latitude as Denver. With a clock radio beside my pillow, listening to Rick Barber every night became almost an addiction."

At the time he left KOA, he was hoping he'd be able to do fill-in work at the signal, but there were few if any opportunities to do so. Still, he remained hopeful that a new gig would come along. His Facebook page lists his status as "Temporarily out of work Radio Talk Show Host."

As the winter of 2012 melted into spring, Barber kept active by playing golf five times a week, and he seemed in fine health, says longtime friend Michele Fields of Bon Jour Matchmaking Service, who's written a blog about Barber.

Then, five months ago, something happened. According to Fields, Barber thought he'd pulled a muscle in his leg, and a doctor he visited treated the ailment as such. But the leg kept getting weaker and weaker, and after visiting a number of other physicians, he was told he had ALS.

After receiving this news, Fields says, Barber visited a chiropractor in Lakewood, who disagreed with the ALS diagnosis and said if he paid $1,200 for treatments over the next month, he could return him to 90 percent of his previous function. But the only thing this outlay of cash did for him was worsen his already precarious financial condition as his health continued to deteriorate.

Before long, he'd moved from a cane to a walker to a wheelchair -- and because he lived with his girlfriend in a third-floor apartment accessible only by stairs, he was virtually unable to leave. After one outing, Fields says, friends had to more or less carry him up the stairs. So he seldom left, communicating with friends like Fields mainly by telephone.

Eventually, a neurologist with CU who Fields met put Barber into contact with an ALS expert at the university, and the ALS diagnosis was reconfirmed. Around the same time, Barber and his loved ones came to the conclusion that the apartment was no longer safe for him, so they began exploring assisted living facilities. Fields soon pointed him to EMERITUS at Highline, 1640 South Quebec Way, which she says went out of its way to make it financially feasible for Barber to get the help and care he needs. He moved in on Monday.

How's he dealing with the situation? "Better than I'd be," Fields says. "He's facing everything head on, and there's no subject you can't talk about with him.

She adds that "his voice is still the same -- pretty strong. He's very calm, much calmer than he was when he was all alone at the apartment, and he's still smoking his cigarettes. I bought him some cigars," as well as some rum-raisin ice cream, to encourage him to keep eating.

Meanwhile, admirers like Tom Jensen, music director for the Junior Symphony Guild, are rallying to raise money for Barber's continued care. Here's his Facebook post with the details:

Hi, I am happy to report that the Rick Barber (Richard Barber) Trust -- # 3026864420 -- took 30 seconds at my local Chase Bank. Dropped off a check and am glad to help Rick during his illness. Please share!!! You can also mail it in to Chase Bank re: Rick Barber, 5800 S Parker RD, Aurora CO 80015
In the meantime, Fields's blog, reproduced below in its entirety, pays tribute to the way Barber is dealing with the biggest challenge of his life.

"A lot of things are written about people after they're gone, and he's not gone yet," she says. "But I wanted to write it now, so I could let everyone know how brave he's being."

Continue to read Michele Fields's blog about her good friend, Rick Barber.



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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts