Bob Ross: The Man Behind the Easel by Knowledge is Power   3 years ago


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A short look into the life of an artist that inspired a generation. Don't forget to support your local PBS station.


Tumblr: *Sometimes NSFW

Co-written by Jocelyn Conroy (The Owl's Perch)


Sources and Further Reading:
(Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, 2001)
(Bob Ross: The Happy Painter. Dir. Sherry Spradlin. Blue Ridge PBS, 2011. TV Documentary.)

Hello Audience. I'm Timothy Weal and this is Knowledge is Power.

Bob Ross. Whether young or old, you might know his name from the most recognized and watched TV art show in history: The Joy of Painting. With his "happy little clouds" and "pretty little mountains", he soothed the ears of his viewers from the show's beginnings in 1983 up until 1994 when he had to stop the show due to illness. But what do you know about the man behind the easel?

He was born in 1942 in Daytona Beach, Florida to Ollie, a clerk and waitress, and Jack Ross a builder and carpenter. They divorced when he was only a year and a half and Bob stayed with his father in Orlando.

He dropped out his freshman year of high school and worked as a carpenter with his father where he reportedly lost the tip of his left index finger and kept alligators and armadillos as pets. When he was 17, he joined the United States Air Force. In the next several years, he married his first wife Lynda Brown, with whom he had a son, Steven. He was transferred to a base in Fairbanks, Alaska when he was twenty. By then, he and Lydia had divorced, but he was able to gain custody of his son who would later appear on the program.

It was while he was in Fairbanks that he met his second wife, Jane who was a civilian worker with the Air Force. Bob worked as a medical records technician and as a part-time bartender.

During his time in Alaska, Bob would take his first painting class, start selling his paintings at the bar, and discover his instructor, Bill Alexander. Bill hosted a show similar to what Bob's would become, called "The Magic of Oil Painting". He retired from the Air Force and vowed to never yell again and developed the soothing voice that drew in his audiences. Upon his retirement, he was offered a position as an art instructor for Bill's company. Leaving his wife and son in Alaska, Bob traveled the country teaching the technique, eventually returning to his home state in Florida before being offered to teach his own painting classes in northern Virginia. He accepted the offer, but had little success. It wasn't until Bill Alexander was called upon again that the show started to pick up.

Appearing in a commercial promoting Bob's classes, a local public television station caught wind of Bob's soothing voice and painting techniques. And "The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross" was born. A fallout with the initial station occurred after just one season, so Bob then took his talents to Muncie, Indiana where they filmed all 13 episodes of the second season in just three days. The show was picked up across the country. Jane and Steven relocated to Muncie to be with Bob.

By the early 90s, the show began being translated and broadcasted internationally in Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada, Turkey, Austria, Iran, Japan, and many more. Bob Ross created his own line of painting products, and his own brand of instructional classes with certified instructors throughout the US, much like his mentor Bill Alexander had done before him.
Bob became a national figure appearing as a guest on shows like Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, The Joan Rivers Show, and doing multiple parody commercials for MTV.

While his professional life was at it's peak, he lost his wife in 1992 after a battle with cancer while he battled with lymphoma. After 31 seasons on the air, "The Joy of Painting" ended and he passed away soon after on July 4th of 1995. On what would have been his 70th birthday, Google honored the memory of Bob Ross by depicting him painting one of the g's in Google, with a nature background and a squirrel on his shoulder as seen here.

If you want to watch his show, you can find clips on Youtube or order the DVDs of full episodes from

What do you remember most about Bob Ross? Let me know in the comments below. If you have any ideas for a Knowledge is Power video send them my way via my tumblr or twitter. Both are linked in the description. I'm Timothy Weal. Stay Frosty.

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