Bob Ross was a painter and host of the popular television show The Joy of Painting on PBS from 1983 to 1994. His trademark hairstyle, gentle voice, and catchphrases–especially the now-ubiquitous “happy little trees”–made Ross a cultural icon. His company, Bob Ross Incorporated, continues to sell Ross-branded painting supplies and other products decades after his death in 1995.
Ross was born in Florida in 1942 and was raised in Orlando. He dropped out of school in ninth grade and joined the Air Force at age 17, where he took his first painting lesson. Ross would later say that he was instantly “hooked” on painting by the experience. Ross’s rise in the ranks forced him to be “mean” to lower-ranking soldiers at his base in Alaska, and he vowed that if he ever left the service, he would never scream at anyone again. During his part-time job as a bartender, Ross saw painter Bill Alexander on television and soon sought Alexander out to take lessons from him. Under Alexander, Ross developed the “wet-on-wet” style of painting that he would later popularize.
After discovering he could make more money by painting than in the military, Ross left the Air Force with the rank of Master Sergeant and married his second wife Jane. On the strength of his painting lessons, Ross was given his own show on PBS in 1983, and so The Joy of Painting was born. It was a large success for the network, especially since Ross took no compensation for the program; his income was derived from lessons and sales through Bob Ross Inc. Ross quickly developed a reputation for being kind and soft-spoken as he guided viewers through step-by-step painting techniques. He would often rescue and care for wounded animals, which would be seen periodically through the program.
Ross’s wife died in 1993, and Ross himself developed severe lymphoma the year after, leading to the cancellation of The Joy of Painting. Ross died in 1995, but his company continues to promote the Bob Ross brand and episodes of The Joy of Painting are syndicated for broadcast worldwide.
Featured image via voicesofeastanglia.com