Come on Down, Richard Cunningham!
The Amazing Story of a Granddaughter’s Gift
Dreams, determination, and love are powerful combinations.
For many years, retired teacher Richard Cunningham has watched The Price Is Right from his home in Kilgore, Ohio. His devotion to the longest running game show on television dates back to the show’s original host, Bill Cullen, who led the original version of the program from 1956 until 1972.
What sparked his interest in the popular game show? Richard credits the frugal grocery shopping skills he inherited from mother. “When the show came on the air, I was very interested to see if my pricing skills agreed with the contestants,” he shares. He also keenly observed the prices of food and other items during shopping excursions with Judy, his wife of 52 years.
Richard’s family is quite familiar with his passion for The Price Is Right. His children and grandchildren know not to call during the show because he won’t answer the phone. His favorite games on the show are Plinko and Cliffhangers, the Swiss yodeler game. His least favorite? Time is Money, a pricing game where you can win up to $20,000. “You have 10 seconds to arrange the items. That is absolutely not enough time. I’m also too old to move fast enough to do it.” He also admired Bob Barker when he hosted the show. “He was very professional but also a very caring person.”
Richard was diagnosed with chronic leukemia in 2014. When his leukemia returned in October, his granddaughter Alexis Hileman was determined to make a lifelong dream of his come true. “I occasionally send my grandpa a gift during his chemo treatments. I try to send something little just to say, ‘I love you’,” Alexis said. After hearing from her mother Judy that his lifelong dream was to attend The Price Is Right, Alexis set out to make her grandfather’s dream come true. What followed was an inspirational and moving journey for Richard and his family.
The Cunningham family surprised Richard with the incredible news that he would be a contestant on The Price Is Right at his church on a Sunday in January. “During the service,” remembers Richard, “the pastor paused before his sermon and said, some family is going to be blessed today and it’s going to knock your socks off.” Then The Price Is Right theme song started playing, followed by a video of his grandchildren announcing that he would attend a live taping in February. When Richard turned, and saw his wife Judy crying, he knew this wasn’t a joke.
Richard’s journey to The Price Is Right soon garnered the attention of many followers and well-wishers outside their small community in Ohio. Alexis created social media pages on Facebook and Twitter called “Help Grandpa Be On The Price Is Right”. She posted regular updates and photos of her grandfather and raised money for their trip. Richard’s family was overwhelmed with joy by the generosity of local and national businesses that helped them along the way. JetBlue provided airline tickets for Richard and Judy. Vendors such as Walmart, Harmony, and Applebee’s provided goods and gift certificates to make this journey possible. “When I saw the JetBlue flight confirmation all I could do was cry,” remembers Alexis. “We just simply could have never paid for that. That really inspired me to do the absolute best I could to make this the trip of a lifetime. How could you not after everyone worked so hard and donated so much? There’s still nice people in this world.”
After weeks of planning and anticipation, with custom-made t-shirts in hand, Richard and his family prepared for their cross-country trip. Alexis and her husband Brysson flew to Los Angeles to meet her grandparents and her mother Judy. Every detail of Alexis’ plan was met with an outpouring of love and support from the people they encountered on their journey. From the minute airline representatives greeted the family at Pittsburgh Airport to the moment staffers from The Price Is Right escorted Richard and his group to the front of the line at the studio, every detail fell into place. For the family, the levels of energy and excitement at the taping were infectious. “The taping was great! You could feel the electricity in the room. We applauded and clapped more than we ever did in our lives.” Richard was very surprised by the size of the studio. “It seemed a lot smaller sitting in it opposed to watching it on TV,” he says.
After the taping, Richard recalls feeling like he imagined the whole experience: “Was it real? Was I really there? Did I really talk with Drew Carey and shake his hand? Did I sit in that studio? Yes, I did! Even the dream that you think could never happen, can come true. It also helps to have wonderful grandchildren like Judy and I do, who find out what your dream is and put action your dreams.”
Alexis grew up in Maine and attended college near her grandparents’ home in Ohio. “This is truly where I really got to know my grandparents,” Alexis says. We’ve had a great relationship and continue to do so. I love surprises and I saved one of the best ones for them. They deserve the world and I couldn’t be happier that I got to live Grandpa’s dream right alongside of him. To see his smile and my grandma’s happiness was priceless.”
To find out whether Richard Cunningham was chosen to “Come on down” to Contestants’ Row on The Price Is Right, tune to CBS on May 9th.