Bernie Barker, a retired nuclear engineer, was sixty when he launched his new career: dancing for women. Guinness World Records has since recognized him as the oldest male stripper. This is his story.
Recorded in Hollywood, FL. Premiered July 2, 2003, on Morning Edition.
Update on Bernie Barker, Oldest Male Stripper
Bernie Barker sent the following update on March 15, 2005.
I wanted to take this opportunity to thank those that heard my documentary and found the time and interest to send me literally hundreds of e-mails. I did attempt to answer every question and it was a delight to do so. I still get e-mail, so I want to give those interested in me an update as to my activities. More important is to share some of my thoughts about why in the world would someone now 64 years old want to do the things I do. I started striptease activities at age 60, after prostate cancer surgery, as kind of a fun thing to get in shape, never having done it before. Since then, partly because of the fun I had and the health benefits I received (from exercising so much to look my best and eating more healthy foods) I have continued these activities. Over the past four years, I’ve won 42 striptease contests and received Guinness recognition. While those victories are very motivational to me, it is the audience reactions and the e-mail from just great people that are the reasons I continue. As they say, never say never.
One my current challenges is that I moved from Miami to Las Vegas a year ago. I am now truly an entertainer at heart and came to the entertainment capitol of the world to seek venues to be just that. I am also a born-competitor, having been an athlete all my life. One of my beliefs is that if a person is willing to pay the price anything is possible. Not age, not gender, not race can prevent someone with determination from achieving a lifetime goal.
My own personal goals are to continue to do striptease for ladies as long as the audience receives enjoyment from it. I will stop the day they do not. I am improving my techniques as a dancer and have aspirations for doing more of that if I can find the right venue for me. (I have had some success doing commercials and TV shows and small bit parts in film.) My heart is always that of an entertainer on stage and I hope to get more opportunities here for that. So, in closing, thanks to everyone that wrote me; please continue to do so. I hope each person who reads my little note finds the same joy in his or her life that I find doing what I do.
Bernie Barker. Photo by Colby Katz.
Excerpt from Bernie Barker’s Autobiography
My name is Bernie and I want to share with you the story about my life. This book has been compiled from dozens of real life experiences and several lifestyles, I have at times been fortunate to have the luck to being involved in several exciting and meaningful occupations. It was also my good fortune to work with some very talented people. I am also proud to have been in the United States Navy, while I have no wartime experiences, I served at a difficult time during the cold war in the late 50’s. The training I received in communications while assigned to the USS Newport News also helped me become part of the Missile Test Project down range on San Salvador Island. I lived there almost one year after being discharged from the Navy and had some very exciting experiences that I will share with you in my writings. The time I spent on that Island, along with my Navy experiences helped shape me as a man, and gave me the resolve to go forward at times when most would have just given up.
As a teenager I lived a somewhat privileged life, but I did not let that affect me as an adult, while never forgetting the fun and irresponsible times of youth, I have enjoyed the challenges and uncertainty of adulthood, being daring and different has been my life, and I would not change that for a million dollars. With each new year added to the total years I have lived, I am also becoming more prone to look backward for clues to the meaning of my life, but only in occasional flash backs, when I look ahead it is always for the purpose of living a full life. When I do look backward I see the events and places not the people who were in them, I see myself as a dreamer of sorts, always romantic always searching for answers still not found. In my imagination today as always I see myself as the teenager I was more than 40 years ago, I am never concerned about my future, and remain unafraid of it, or even cancer that is trying to steal years from the total I will yet live.
I have spent the greater part of my life choosing my own pathway, often carelessly, some of the things I did, and the way I lived were ill advised, but I meant no harm to anyone. Most of those things caused no lasting harm to anyone but myself, and like my present actions only serve to amuse, and embarrass. A few of my romantic misadventures I deeply regret.
Today if you passed me on the street, you would see only a man who looks not much different than you do. I am 6′ tall and weigh 175 lbs my hair is blonde/gray. My age may be a little hard to calculate because of all the gym activities I do. Probably my most outstanding features may be the dark tan I maintain, and the slightly different clothes that I wear that has become a part of my own self-image and mystique. Each of you has your own identity also, so whatever I appear to be like or really am, is actually not much different than you.
This book will attempt to explain the strange journey I have taken, it will start off as a teenager sharing all the fun of youth. It will include the most interesting parts of my adult life. There are large blocks of it that are glossed over, these were the times I was like you, married responsible and raising a family. The most exciting thing I did then was to play golf, but I also did that with a passion, to the best of my ability. I was fortunate to have had three marriages, three children and two grandchildren. It is hard to understand how I could have failed three times, because in each marriage at the beginnings I never thought it possible they would not last.
To the wives I have had I wish you the best, I am sorry I could not be with you longer. I am sure you view me now much differently than before. To Ifa I want to say I am especially sorry, we were married for 15 years, but were really strangers. You are bright and work hard. I am sure you will do well. I really miss you and all the talks we had over coffee.
There also will be glimpses into the periods of irresponsibility I fall back into like the one I am in at present, as well as glimpses into periods of great responsibility, I have had more of them than most do in their entire lifetimes. A lesson in life I have learned is to never feel sorry for those who have their life shortened by time; only feel sorry for the old that have never really lived. Think of the young that have left us to soon like JFK and his son, the impact that both had and the experiences they shared with us in the short time they were here are like three lifetimes that most of us could ever live. Outrageous examines the sometimes humorous events that have occurred, mostly out of my own romantic nature and the foolishness that is always present.
I will give you a glimpse into the strange and unknown world of Nuclear Power as it occurs daily through out the world within the confines of the many commercial Nuclear Stations and their own containment buildings. It was within two of these stations separated by the Atlantic ocean that I reached out to become the best I could ever be having been put in the most responsible of positions, and having the trust of the talented people around me to be able to have made a difference when it really counted. The Nuclear workers, especially all the Health Physics personnel that travel as gypsy’s through out the world between these Nuclear Stations are really the heroes among us, they are unknown to most, what they do is so complex and important it is almost indescribable. How many of you could work 72 plus hours a week for months at a time locked within a nuclear station? Then after a few weeks off to recuperate be given another assignment lasting months some 1,000 or more miles away? This is the world and the talented workers I will write about, for they also are the young at heart, otherwise they could not survive.
If I were to describe myself it would be as a dreamer, a real life Forrest Gump. I dream a dream and then try to become it, how else could one explain my current actions? I am also a real life entertainer and I am writing this book to be as entertaining to you the reader as possible, I hope to bring you some joy and laughter and to help many in some way to also self reflect a little. If I can do this I will consider all the work to write this book worthwhile.
I never forgot my youth, I still love music, cannot imagine seeing anyone over 30, not because of the beauty that only youth has, but because being a dreamer I am still there, Elvis is gone but I am not. I do not accept the ravages of age gracefully, I have Cancer and laugh at it, my body also sometimes protests the Exercise I force upon it, but my inner strength always prevails.
I sometimes still think about a special person who has gone from me, but I feel will someday return for only she knows me truly.
I am always still myself I have no malice towards anyone, but I still seek the fun and company of our young only because in my spirit I am still with then. If this is the last chapter in my life so be it, because I will travel forward as long as I can, looking for some other special moment or challenges. I am alone living by myself, but in my thoughts I still have my dreams to yet become, and I still feel the warmth of the sunshine, is that not really what life is all about?
When I was 60 I dreamed that I could become a male stripper, and did just that, in so doing I cemented my youth to that image, I have fun, enjoy life. I hope by my actions and skills as a human being or wherever my dreams take me, are viewed humorously as they should be, but also brings some joy and entertainment to all that know me or who read this book. If I can do that I will feel everything has been worth it, I also wonder at times how the hell I got here from there?
I believe that anything is possible for anyone in America, and good things sometimes happens to those that try hardest which I always do, in closing let me quote a few lines from My Creed.
I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon if I can. I seek opportunity not security, I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me.
I want to take the calculated risk: to dream and to build to fail and to succeed. All this is what it means to be an American.
This documentary comes from Sound Portraits Productions, a mission-driven independent production company that was created by Dave Isay in 1994. Sound Portraits was the predecessor to StoryCorps and was dedicated to telling stories that brought neglected American voices to a national audience.