Barker lived on his own terms

Everyone joined in for the last song at Bernie Barker's funeral last month.

Most of us were taught the words to "This Little Light of Mine" as kids.

Barker lived them.

After years of working as a nuclear engineer and selling insurance in Florida, Barker craved more excitement.

"He watched a motivational film about someone who once had polio breaking a world's record," Barker's daughter, Amanda Barker, said in an e-mail to his Las Vegas pal and fellow kindred spirit Gary Fisher.

"This was to motivate him to sell more insurance. It motivated him to break a record. He changed from a couch potato to a man with a mission," she wrote.

That was in 1978.

Barker decided to break a swimming record. He had a shark cage built from plastic pipes, lost weight, drank powdered liver and began running, "with most of the dogs in the neighborhood chasing after him," his daughter recalled.

One day while swimming, he got run over by a ski boat, needed 27 stitches in his foot and was ticketed for swimming in a no-swimming zone.

When he informed the doctor of his plans to swim a record 134 miles, the doctor told him it was OK as long as he didn't get his foot wet, his daughter said.

Barker's first attempt had to be called off because of Gulf Stream conditions.

When he finally made the attempt, the tow rope on his protective shark cage broke about midnight and the boat crew didn't realize it for hours.

Barker bobbed alone in the sea and was nearly run over by a party boat before his crew found him, sick but alive.

Six years ago, Barker entered a male striptease contest and won the first of 42 stripper titles.

He moved to Las Vegas and dabbled in acting. Three years ago, he wound up being killed by George Clooney's character in "Ocean's Twelve."

Last summer he went to Hollywood and participated in NBC's "America's Got Talent," billed as the nation's oldest male stripper. He was to perform in "Beacher's Madhouse" next month at the Hard Rock Hotel.

Barker died at age 66 on March 21 after a brief battle with prostate cancer.

During his funeral in Terryville, Conn., on April 1, his family chose two songs: Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" and "This Little Light of Mine," with lyrics that go "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine."

Buried with him were his white tennis shoes.


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