23 Happy Little Bob Ross Facts Most Viewers Never Knew

RealClear Staff


PBS painting superstar Bob Ross died 20 years ago this summer. While he is looked upon with irony these days, he was a huge television personality with a very surprising back story that most probably overlooked at the time. 

Sit back, think of happy trees and learn a little more about everyone's favorite afroed oil painter. 

1. He Made Tons of Paintings

By Ross' own estimates he made about 30,000 oil paintings over the course of his life, which equals out to about 576 portraits of happy trees each year!

2. He Donated Most of Them

While he sold his painting early in his career, while he was on TV Ross gave most of his paintings away to PBS stations to help them raise money. 

3. Ross Never Once Got Paid by PBS

Ross never asked PBS to pay him for his services. 

Instead, he had other income streams...

4. He Was a Heck of a Businessman

The Joy of Painting show was actually a great marketing tool for Ross, who earned a living with his painting supplies, videos and teaching. 

5. He Worked Really Fast

Ross' unique style of painting, which his show taught to viewers, emphasized moving quickly and efficiently. So quickly, in fact, Ross could tape an entire season's worth of shows in a matter of a day or two. 

6. Which Left Lots of Free Time

While he dedicated a great deal of time teaching others to paint in person and certifying instructors to teach his method, he also published about 20 books and 100 videos. 

7. He Made Good Money Doing It

Bob Ross was a $15 million a year business that actually continues to this day, selling supplies, videos and books. 

8. Ross was a Longtime Animal Lover

Ross frequently featured animals on his show and was known to contribute to animal-friendly charities. One story says that as a boy in Florida he was such an animal nut he nursed a sick alligator back to health in his family's tub. 

9. He Lost a Finger

Working as a carpenter when he was younger, Ross actually lost part of an index finger. Luckily, it was his palette-holding hand and not his brush hand. 

10. He Was a Career Army Man

Prior to being a painting star, Ross was actually a Master Sergeant in the Air Force for 20 years. Surprisingly, his military stint had a huge influence on his painting. 

11. He Wasn't Always so Nice

According to Wikipedia: 

Having held military positions that required him to be, in his own words, "mean" and "tough," "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 decided that if he ever moved on from the military, he would never scream again.

12. That Wasn't The Only Thing That Changed Him

It was while he was stationed in Alaska and the state's dramatic landscape of snow-covered mountains that Ross began to take a serious interest in painting this landscape. 

13. It Also Influenced His Speed

The military lifestyle, with intense periods of work followed by short bits of downtime inspired Ross' super fast style of painting, since he could work that way while not screaming at airmen. 

14. Look Familiar?

Ross was always quick to praise his mentor, Bill Alexander, who taught him the fast wet-on-wet technique of painting. Alexander actually hosted a PBS show called The Magic of Oil Painting and it looks like that wasn't the only way he influenced Ross. 

15. What Was The Wet-On-Wet Technique?

The wet-on-wet technique that Ross perfected simply was a way to paint over top of wet oil paint instead of waiting for it to dry. This allowed beginners to learn oil painting quickly, with a minimum of tools and to complete pictures quickly, too. 

16. He Had a Perm for Practical Reasons

According to Wikipedia, when Ross left the Air Force to start a painting career he permed his hair as a means to save money on getting haircuts. 

However, it was a look that would stick, despite...

17. Ross Hated His Haircut

Ross really didn't enjoy the afro by the time he could afford a decent haircut. However, he realized that it held a lot of marketing potential and that he was known for the hair. So, he kept the bulbous hair for that reason. 

18. Joy Of Painting Wasn't on That Long

We tend to think of Ross' Joy of Painting show to be a perpetual powerhouse on public television, but in reality it only ran for 11 seasons, from 1983-1994. While that's nothing to sneeze at, it's not the huge back catalog most assume. 

19. His Biggest Catchphrase

Ross became a big hit for PBS with his anyone-can-do-it attitude and his mellow, southern drawl. But his optimistic outlook was also key, including this little phrase, which remains today: 

"We don't make mistakes, just happy accidents." 

20. He Had a Good Sense of Humor

Ross was so well known that he shot a series of self-parodying ads for MTV in the late 80s. 

21. He Appeared on the Grand Ole Opry Once

Ross was a big country music fan, so he naturally accepted the invitation to join Nashville legend, Hank Snow, onstage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1987. Supposedly, Ross gave Snow a private painting lesson afterward. 

22. He REALLY Liked Trees

His other catchphrase "Happy little trees" was no accident. According to his ridiculously cool statistics rundown, Ross painted a tree in 91% of all his paintings.  

23. He Died in 1995

After battling lymphoma for several years, Ross passed away at the age of 52. 



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