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Bob Ross: Only Happy Accidents (Bob Ross Biography)

Bob Ross: Only Happy Accidents (Bob Ross Biography)

For eleven years he hosted one of the most
popular art shows on television — transforming a blank canvas to a finished painting in a
remarkably short, 30 minutes. He captivated audiences with his mesmerizing
voice and relaxed demeanor, and of course, his signature perm. Nearly twenty-five years after his death,
the painter of “happy little trees” is immortalized through internet memes, inspirational
quotes, a thriving business in his name, and reruns of his show The Joy of Painting. His fame as a pop-culture icon shows no sign
of diminishing yet so little is known about his life. Today on Biographics, we piece together the
world of Bob Ross — beyond the canvas. Personal Life Bob Ross was fiercely private and never revealed
details of his personal life. He gave very few interviews — claiming no
one bothered to ask him. Looking for answers is especially difficult
considering no official biography of his life exists from primary sources. The one documentary, “Bob Ross: The Happy
Painter” can only be obtained by pledging money to PBS, or getting a hold of a DVD. The book, Happy Clouds, Happy Trees: The Bob
Ross Phenomenon, admitted that their “text is… about an understanding we have of Bob
Ross and his life. If we had wanted to write an accurate biographical
book on Bob Ross, that goal would be difficult to accomplish.” Adding to the elusive Ross; he was said to
have very few friends and they, out of respect, only ever conducted interviews for the aforementioned
documentary that is not readily or widely available. Facts are hard to come by, and nearly impossible
to verify. Still, some specifics are known and so far,
remain undisputed. Here’s what we know: Robert (Bob) Norman Ross was born on October
29, 1942 in Daytona Beach, Florida to Jack, a builder and carpenter, and Ollie, a waitress. When Ross was just a year and a half old his
parents divorced and Ross moved to Orlando. Not much is known of Ross’ childhood in
Orlando — save for two defining moments. As a freshman in high school, Ross dropped
out to work as a carpenter alongside his father. Around the same time, Ross suffered an accident,
losing the tip of his left index finger on a saw blade. Ross must have been self-conscious of his
deformed hand for the rest of his life. On his hit television show The Joy of Painting,
Ross carefully disguised it — holding his paint palette so it remained shielded from
view most of the time. Ross was known to be an animal lover his entire
life. As a youngster, this may have been passed
on from his mother. As a teenager, Ross allegedly kept exotic
pets, including armadillos and alligators. Later on in life, his pet gray squirrel sometimes
made an appearance on his television show. Ross once said, “If we’re going to have
animals around we all have to be concerned about them and take care of them.” Bob Ross married twice during his life and
had three sons. He married his first wife Lynda Brown early
on in his military career and they divorced in 1981. The couple had two sons, Bob Jr. and Steven. Steven would follow in his father’s footsteps
and become a certified Bob Ross painting instructor. Ross’ second wife Jane, was a civilian in
Alaska. They had one son, Morgan, who would also become
an accomplished artist. Sadly, Jane died from cancer in 1993 and Ross
did not remarry. Military Career Long before his time on public television,
Ross was in the military. At the age of 18 Ross joined the United States
Air Force and within a few years he was uprooted from his native Florida and sent to an entirely
unfamiliar place — Fairbanks, Alaska. Ross spent the next twenty years of his life
in Alaska — working, raising a family, and developing a love for painting amid the majestic
mountains, towering pines, and crystal clear waters. Examining Ross’ paintings over his lifetime,
one can see without question, the trees, peaks, valleys and streams are distinctly Alaskan. Eventually Ross rose through the Air Force
ranks to Master Sergeant after holding positions as a medical records technician and first
sergeant of the Clinic at Eielson Air Force Base. These positions required him to be, in his
own words, “tough” and “mean.” He was “the guy who makes you scrub the latrine,
the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work.” Ross gained a reputation for being hard on
his subordinates who nicknamed him “Bust ’em up Bobby.” For anyone who has watched Ross on The Joy
of Painting, the image of him as the authoritative, military figure couldn’t be further from
his television personality. Apparently, Ross yelled so much during his
military career he never wanted to raise his voice again after he left the Air Force. Bob Ross the Painter Ross’ first brush with painting occurred
at an art class at the Anchorage U.S.O. club but he clashed with his abstract-loving instructors. According to Ross, they failed to teach him
the practical techniques of how to paint. “They’d tell you what makes a tree, but
they wouldn’t tell you how to paint a tree.” Fortunately, the experience didn’t turn
him away from painting altogether. Ross soon found a more suitable painting instructor
on public television. Ross’ predecessor was an older, German painter
named Bill Alexander. He hosted a half-hour instructional painting
show, The Magic of Oil Painting, on PBS. Watching the show, Ross learned how to paint
in the alla prima style (Italian for “first attempt”), also known in the art world as
“wet-on-wet.” Ross perfected the technique — which allowed
him to complete a finished work in a single session. Unlike other painting methods, when an artist
uses alla prima, he or she can add wet paint in layers without waiting for the paint to
fully dry. Alexander falsely claimed to have invented
the style but it actually dates back to the fifteenth century in Flanders (modern-day
Belgium). Alla Prima was popular with many famous artists
throughout history but enjoyed great fanfare among the Impressionist painters in the nineteenth
century. Notably, it was a favorite technique of artists
Claude Monet and John Singer Sargent. After further honing his skills, Ross decided
to supplement his Air Force pay by selling landscapes painted on the inside of gold prospecting
pans to tourists. It was a lucrative endeavor and when his earnings
from paintings surpassed his military salary, he resigned to become a full-time artist. The Joy of Painting Upon leaving the Air Force, Ross returned
to Florida and sought out Bill Alexander to perfect his painting skills. By that time, Alexander taught art classes
in his spare time and happily took the eager Ross under his wing. Alexander didn’t realize Ross would later
take everything he knew from these lessons, make his own show, and rise to the level of
superstardom — which eventually led to their falling out. During their early meeting, Alexander was
impressed with Ross and he hired him as a traveling tutor for the Alexander Magic Art
Supplies Company. At the same time, nine hundred miles away
from Alexander’s studio in Clearwater, Florida, a woman named Annette Kowalski was experiencing
a debilitating depression after losing her oldest son in a traffic accident. Unable to get up, she laid in bed all day
watching television episodes of The Magic of Oil Painting. Desperate and hoping to cheer his wife up,
Walter Kowalski signed Annette up for a five-day painting class with Alexander…or so she
thought. Before Annette’s arrival, Alexander had
passed on his classes to an unknown instructor known simply as Bob. Annette was incredibly disappointed when she
heard Alexander was not longer instructing, but Walter insisted she go anyway saying,
“Get in the Car. We’re going.” Over the course of the five day painting class
whatever misgivings Annette first had about Ross completely disappeared. In fact, taking that class, she recognized
there was something very special about him. Looking back years later Annette said, “I
was so mesmerized by Bob. “Somehow, he lifted me up out of that depression….I
just think that Bob knew how to woo people.” Wooing people was Ross’ calling card. Annette was on to something and saw in Ross
an opportunity to “put it in a bottle and sell it.” She believed Ross was capable of making a
fortune and she wanted in. After the class, Annette and her husband took
Ross out to dinner and brokered a business deal. From that point on, Annette became Ross’
manager — sinking her entire life savings into the partnership. Ross and his wife ponied up a similar amount
of capital. As manager, Annette focused on taking out
ads in the local papers and setting up painting seminars at various malls. She even established a toll-free telephone
hotline, 1-800-BOB-ROSS. But for people to really connect and experience
the allure of Bob Ross, she needed to get him in front of as many people as possible. They filmed a commercial, and possibly a pilot
television show to sell to PBS executives. Eventually, all the hard work and hustle paid
off and Ross landed his own show on the network, The Joy of Painting. The first episode aired on January 11, 1983. The Joy of Painting enjoyed an eleven year
run on PBS from 1983 to 1994, filming 403 episodes in total. During the 30 minutes of airtime for each
show, Ross stood in a dark room with a blank canvas and painted an imaginary landscape
scene. There were two cameras for the program, shot
in real-time — a medium shot of Ross and his canvas, and a close-up shot of the canvas
or palette. Ross faithfully instructed oil painting to
viewers at home in the alla prima style — the same technique he previously learned from
Bill Alexander. With little more than smudges, blotches, and
scrapes from his palette knife, Ross created masterpieces. To keep the lessons inexpensive for people,
the tools and color selection was limited. Though he surely had the technique down, Ross’
real draw for audiences was his calming presence,
slower-paced speech, warm voice, and words of encouragement sprinkled in while instructing. In this way, Ross is often compared to Fred
Rogers, the iconic children’s show host of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. On The Joy of Painting, there was no pressure
from Ross. He believed everyone could “paint almighty
pictures” and “there are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” The Joy of Painting proved to be an immediate
success for the PBS network. For some viewers, it was a reprieve from the
harsher realities of life, or the doldrums of other television programs. When asked about his consoling approach, Ross
said, “I got a letter from somebody here a while back, and they said, ‘Bob, everything
in your world seems to be happy.’ That’s for sure. That’s why I paint. It’s because I can create the kind of world
that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news.” The Joy of Painting was like a personal art
lesson, described by his manager Annette as “liquid tranquilizer.” Yet amazingly, only about 10 percent of viewers
painted along with Ross. The other 90 percent tuned in to simply watch
him. Ross worked quickly to create his masterpieces
— swirling the paint around, dabbing it here and there — and grabbing for his two-inch
brush every now and then saying, “Now, let’s get crazy.” He made the whole process of painting look
completely effortless. The truth is, Ross was meticulous and his
manager Annette referred to him as a “tyrant.” Ross was not mean or nasty according to Annette
but he was every bit a businessman as he was a painter. He wanted everything on the show to be perfect
and done his way. Before filming each episode, Ross would lay
awake at night planning and rehearsing exactly what he would say. No one watching would ever know — Ross always
appeared to be calm and free form on camera. His planning extended to more than the words
he said. For each episode of The Joy of Painting, Ross
didn’t complete just one painting. He always finished three. Ross painted one while filming (the one everyone
saw), another was done before and sat just off-camera for Ross to use as reference, and
the final painting, a more detailed work, was completed after the show and was photographed
for use in Ross’ instruction books. Ross was never actually paid for appearing
in any of The Joys of Painting shows on PBS. Instead, he used it to promote his teaching
business — which worked spectacularly to expand interest after the first episode. The business, Bob Ross Inc., eventually grew
to include paint supplies branded by Bob Ross and the company and Ross raked in millions
of dollars. To further bring his brand into the spotlight,
Ross occasionally appeared on talk shows and appeared in promotional gigs; some of these
included MTV, The Joan Rivers Show, Phil Donahue, and as a guest at a Hank Snow country music
concert at the Grand Ole Opry. The final The Joy of Painting show aired on
May 17, 1994 after Ross was diagnosed with cancer. Ross’ son Steven, who made regular appearances
on the show, appeared with his father on the set. Bob Ross the Brand Most of Ross’ image was intentionally created
— except for his trademark afro. Believe it or not, his hair wasn’t even
naturally curly — it was straight. Before he officially had ‘made it,’ Ross
ditched his short, military crew cuts for a longer style and perm as a way to save money. Once his perm was a hallmark of the Bob Ross
brand, he couldn’t bring himself to change it even though he grew to dislike it. Later, after Ross got sick from Lymphoma cancer
and lost all his hair to chemotherapy treatments, he wore a wig on his show to keep up his appearance. Ross’ outfits were another carefully crafted
element of his “look.” On The Joy of Painting Ross wore casual blue
jeans with a button-up shirt…the top buttons were left undone to reveal a bit of chest
hair. This timeless look was intended to appear
“current” when PBS aired reruns of shows later on. A private man, Ross and his manager Annette
told a backstory of his life that was light on biographical details. The story emphasized modest beginnings, a
love of nature and animals, and philosophy that every person matters. His caring personality extended to his viewers,
students, and injured animals that he took in and cared for. The narrative continues to be pushed today
by the business, Bob Ross, Inc. Illness & Death In 1994, Ross was dealt a devastating blow
with his diagnosis of Lymphoma, a rare type of cancer. Lymphoma is in a group of blood cancers — it
attacks the lymphatic system. The lymph nodes and glands, along with a network
of vessels, are an important part of the body’s circulatory functions that aid in a person’s
immune system. Many people with Lymphoma never have or display
symptoms, and it isn’t unknown how much Ross suffered from his disease. Ross kept his cancer diagnosis out of the
public eye, only telling his closest friends and relatives. He reportedly painted right up until the end,
and died in 1995 at the age of 52. At his grave at Woodlawn Memorial Park in
Gotha, Florida, a simple stone marker reads: “Bob Ross, Television Artist.” Bob Ross’ Legacy Bob Ross was a prolific artist, purportedly
completing 30,000 paintings during his lifetime. With so many Ross paintings out in the world,
it would seem relatively easy to find one and buy it to hang above the living room couch. Not true — anyone wanting to purchase one
today would be hard-pressed to find an original. The reason for this being, there are so many
copycat and fraudulent versions that have flooded the marketplace. And, virtually all of Ross’ paintings made
on The Joy of Painting he donated to PBS fundraisers to raise money for other public broadcasting
programs. Today the company, Bob Ross Inc. is going
strong and is still managed by Annette and Walter Kowalski. The company sells a variety of paints, brushes,
art kits, easels, canvases, instructional DVDs and books. On their website one can find and order Bob
Ross branded apparel — including socks, T-shirts, and baby bibs. There are an array of accessories and wacky
gifts, including coffee mugs, glasses — even a certified Bob Ross Chia Pet. Beyond the official merchandise, one can find
just about anything with the Bob Ross image — a quick Google search returns a prayer
candle named for ‘Saint Bob Ross.’ The company Bob Ross, Inc. still trains and
certifies painting instructors who desire to work, teach, and promote themselves in
the spirit of the artist. Most recently, Netflix has licensed shows,
adding Ross’ series, Beauty Is Everywhere and The Joy of Painting to its lineup. In pop-culture, references to Bob Ross and
his aphorisms are everywhere. His likeness and inspirational quotes live
on through internet memes. Google celebrated Ross for what would have
been his seventieth birthday in 2012 with an Google Doodle, an image of Ross painting
the letter “g” with a landscape in the background. He has been mentioned in many popular television
shows such as Family Guy and The Boondocks; Target stores carry a Bob Ross board game,
Bob Ross: The Art of Chill. If all this wasn’t enough, the LEGO company
has created a Bob Ross LEGO figure, complete with a paintbrush and palette. His icon status shows absolutely no signs
of diminishing. It seems Ross’ legacy will never die — and
his fans will continue to honor and celebrate the man for years to come. Ross once said, “Didn’t you know you had
that much power? You can move mountains. You can do anything.” He showed us he could create a better place
— a world filled with “happy little trees” that was free of judgement — where everyone
was an artist and every landscape was full of majestic wonder.

  • He was on right around the same time as Mr Rogers Neighborhood, can’t remember who came on first, but most afternoons…

  • Dear Simon – i hope this doesn't sound snooty, as i am far from that kind of person. But Bob Ross was not an Artist. what he was, was a master at helping people – a good therapist and i really give him that. But he's no John Gnagy (who taught us how to draw, not splash paint on a canvas). Bob Ross never produced "masterpieces". his work was the kind you'd buy as a naif or a person completely new to art. you can find loads of these kinds of painters selling their stuff in N.Y.C. (for instance, in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art). I'm glad he made people feel better – that's very important for people – really. But please, do not call his work masterpieces. Look at the Hudson Valley painters and many, many Artists in Europe who painted landscapes. There's absolutely no comparison.

    This is just me – i'm not saying i'm better, it's just me. as far as i'm concerned, Ross bored me to death. Now, Neil Degrasse Tyson – he's intelligent, thrills me, and makes me feel "happy", as he does for a whole bunch of people while educating about science and logic. He's a freakin' genius. Two completely different men who brought/bring a good feeling to your day. Have a happy in the way that makes you feel good – that's what is important – helping each other is what's important and that's what Ross did :}

  • it is quite amazing the power of a positive spirit that comes across via someone's art…the perfect vehicle to express your world views of unconditional hope…Ross became a priest of the painted mind…with a chill brush…

  • I've had your channel on my radar for sometime already and this wonderfull episode finally earned you my subscrition ;).
    Many thanks for this upload, really loved to watch ol' Bob, guess because there has been something really peacefull
    in his ways. R.I.P. Bob Ross

  • I just found this channel a few days ago I have watched ma few videos and I enjoyed them. I liked the channel but after seeing this video about Ross I no longer like this channel. I love it!

  • Some friends of mine often threw house parties at their place years ago, after a few drinks my buddy Al and I would decide to have a childhood nostalgia moment and watch episodes of the Joy of Painting, and every time drunken and curious folks would be enamored by the smooth "liquid tranquilizer" emanating from Al's room. The door would always be left wide open, welcoming any and all who wished to enjoy some nostalgia or in many cases be introduced to Bob Ross for the first time. It'd always start off as Al and I, but would always become a small, tightly packed room of intoxicated young adults reliving their childhoods or discovering the joy that was and is Bob Ross for the first time. I still occasionally watch, and often tear up, remembering wistfully the light Bob brought to my tumultuous childhood.

  • I love your page. Thank you for the great bios. Is there any way you could do Camille Corrot when you get a chance? I have his favorite painting that I cannot find online. all I remember is he went to watch opera, he paint the angel dies lying by a tree on trees on the side of paint. The cause of death is she made wish come true who is human she loved deeply but he loved another woman, in order to make his wish come true, she gave her life for his happiness.

  • I remember as kid back in the 90's during summer vacation when school was out, my dad would come home from work and his routine TV binge was 4 shows. The Dukes of Hazard, The Incredible Hulk, Discovery Channel's Wild and the show that started his afternoon was The Joys of Painting With Bob Ross. I would always go in his room and sit alongside his bed to watch the show with him. I love art but my father never painted a portrait in his life so I asked him why he watched the show. His response was "I like the way he cleans the brush…. look!" And just like that, Bob whacked or as he put it, "just beat that sucker, beat that devil, hehehe!" his brush and then he looked at the camera and smiled after he cleaned it. My father just laughed. Those were great times.

  • This guy will always be an icon. Always loved watching his show. I never painted but as an aspiring artist years ago, he was a huge inspiration.

  • Thank you so much for this one, Simon! As a child, I fell in love with Bob Ross' "happy little accidents" (how no mistake was ever to big to overcome – an important life lesson for a child to learn) and used to watch him every time he came on PBS. I was amazed at how simple and easy he made the art of painting complex pastoral masterpieces look. But unlike other contemporaries of my childhood like Jim Henson and Walt Disney, very little has been made about Mr. Ross' life. So… THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

  • I can't paint for beans but I love watching Bob Ross. his calm voice and the way he presents is just pleasing and I could watch him paint for hours

  • Comparing Ross to the great John Singer Sargent? Come now. I mean, really. Painting a portrait, Sargent would sometimes scrape off a face and redo it a dozen or more times before he was satisfied. He painted slowly and deliberately. Each touch was meticulously planned and executed. He considered mixing or blending on the canvas a sort of sin. He did it very rarely, and instructed his students never to do so.

  • He wasn't married 3 times? Vivian Ridge (m. 1965; div. 1977), Jane Ross (m. 1977; her death. 1992), Lynda Brown (m. 1995; his death. 1995). he only had one son, Steven who appeared in his programs and a stepson with his second wife, Morgan (his sons name, not his wifes!).

  • Bob Ross and Mr. Rogers, my two favorite TV peronas of all time and honestly, I also look up to Robert Downey Jr., Chris Pratt and even Johnny Depp. To understand my choices, you need to understand my life, they all perfectly balance out for me and that may not be the same for others but these men are very important to me.

  • This video towards the end made me smile so much. I've always appreciated Bob since I was a kid and seeing how loved he is by fellow fans always makes me feel good.

  • Bob Ross is a pseudonym. He was in the special forces and worked with the CIA hence very little is known about him.

  • Seriously, because I thought Bob Ross was a stoner who painted – I thought he was a gimmick for stoners. However, like he says 'whips out his two-inch and goes crazy' on a row of trees.
    Thank you. That is good education for myself and those who get to see him paint.

  • “Beat the devil outta it” every time he cleared his brush with thinner 😂 god I miss that man

  • Watched his show as a very poor immigrant child with five siblings all spaced one year apart and two working parents. I was mesmerized by his very calm voice in a life where nothing was ever calm. A remarkable man

  • Bob Ross was crazy talented. I know nothing about painting but man, watching him paint looks so easy

  • Bob Ross' show reruns used to play when i would stay home sick at my grandparents house, me and my grandpa would fall asleep to him, so whenever i see him i feel so at peace, so happy, like the world gets so much brighter bc he was in it, he wasnt here for a long time, but he shined so bright God himself wanted to meet him.

  • My 2 sons love this man. They are in their 40's now and still talk about him sometimes when together. Never heard anything bad from them about Bob Ross. When you can impress 2 boys and they remember you forever then you have done something right.

  • Inspired by Bob Ross (whom I watched a TON in the 80's) and kitted out by Alexander, even going to the Salem, OR Alexander Paint Factory for an Open House after I graduated (still get compliments on the 2 paintings I did that day LOL).

  • I loved this show as a kid. It was one of my favorite shows to watch. The simplicity of it just took me away. It was so relaxing and therapeutic. I could sit for hours and watch Bob paint. His voice was calming and clear. As a child, I didnt understand why I loved his show. But as an adult, I fully understand now. We need more shows like this…for kids. The creativity. The patience. The simplicity. So relaxing. So therapeutic. So calming. My favorite show. RIH Bob.

  • Jon Gnagy was Bob Ross's predecessor as a popular art teacher on TV, although he only taught drawing, not painting.

  • I grew up watching that afro and the placement of happy little trees. When I was young, it was astonishing boring, now that I'm pushing 40 it's strangely relaxing.

  • I wish I could hit the 'Like' button repeatedly giving more likes. I grew up with Bob Ross. I wish I could have met him.

  • Great video, although I really wish you would have mentioned that the show was filmed in Muncie Indiana

  • I was given a Bob Ross Chia head for Christmas last year by my dad. I still can't say for sure why he thought I would enjoy it, but I do none the less! I only actually grew the chia on it once, but it filled in very unevenly and molded quickly. The result was that Ross looked like a terrifying forest troll for a month. These days he sits chia-less on my kitchen windowsill, creepily staring at me as I wash dishes.

  • I would like to learn this thing you call painting … but at the bare minimum, I see the purchase of a happy Bob Ross ChiaPet in my future …

  • It has probably been mentioned many times… but the red coloring in the thumbnails makes these people look sinister. It’s like Bob Ross was a serial killer.

    I think you should switch your yellow and red colorings.

  • Used to watch all his programes on TV with my uncle Edgar who himself liked to paint too. Thank you Simón for bringing back my childhood memories. May Bob and uncle Edgar both rest in peace.

  • When he did an episode, he painted three of the same picture. One he did before, one during and so on. One of each painting when to his friends the ?Kawasaki’s? (Not sure how to spell it). They actually own every single painting of his. He ended up living with them after his wife passed. His painting have actually been deemed Priceless!!! Recently his business donated some of his work to the Smithsonian’s Permanent Collection. 🤩
    Edit: I’m writing this as I watch so the great Simon May also say some of it too. 😋

  • Yes! Bob Ross! The accepting, encouraging neighbor for adults. My dad, a functional alcoholic, started watching his show and a little while later quit drinking cold Turkey with no ill effects. A couple years later the week he retired he took a couple Bob Ross classes and started painting beautifully. Switched to acrylics though because of the toxic effects of the solvents used in oils. Still painted beautifully and prolifically until he passed away. Thank you Bob. I'm sure he has saved countless others as well.💜

  • everyone loves Bob Ross, his calm voice and beautiful artwork. what a great person Bob Ross was. i was so happy to find out his shows are on netflix thank you Simon !!

  • I recently watched a video on why you can't get Ross paintings and it's because they are all stored at his company head quarters. He refused to sell any of them and only a few were given as gifts to his manager and her husband. The rest are in storage and the ladies in the office admitted they may not be appropriately stored.

  • I miss the guy. I remember watching him with my mother. He was the best. Really calming to watch. Hope he is in Heaven now.

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