Bob Ross: One of America’s Most Beloved Painters

Updated on February 26, 2019
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Readmikenow enjoys writing about unique and interesting people. He likes to learn about individuals who live or have lived unusual lives.

Bob Ross during The Joy of Painting
Bob Ross during The Joy of Painting

The instructional program called The Joy of Painting started being broadcast on PBS in 1983. It would be shown for over a decade and was watched by millions of viewers. Bob Ross became a very popular television painting instructor. He was recognized for his gentle demeanor and soft humor. Ross impressed viewers with his ability to finish a painting within a 30-minute period of time. As the popularity of The Joy of Painting grew, it was carried by over 274 stations. It resulted in a line of business products that included how-to-books, videos, art supplies as well as Bob Ross certified instructors.

Early Life

Robert Norman Ross was born on October 29, 1942, in Daytona Beach, Florida. He grew up in Orlando, Florida. As a child, Ross would care for animals that had been injured. One of them was a squirrel he called Peapod The Pocket Squirrel. During his show, Peapod The Pocket Squirrel was featured in a few of the episodes. Bob Ross left high school when he was in 9th grade. This is when he started working with his father as a carpenter after his father had been injured.

Bob Ross in Air Force
Bob Ross in Air Force

Military Career

In 1961, Bob Ross was 18-years-old and decided to join the United States Air Force. During this time, he worked as a medical records technician. Ross did well and eventually achieved the rank of master sergeant. While stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, he worked at the U.S. Air Force Clinic. This is where he first saw snow on the mountains. This later was an image he often had in his artwork. Ross worked on developing a quick-painting technique during his short work breaks during the day. He would also create art for sale during this time. Ross claimed he was the type of guy in the military who was in charge and had to yell at people to do things. He said when he left the Air Force, he would never yell at anyone again.

Painting Career

Bob Ross attended an art class held at the U.S.O. Club in Anchorage, Alaska. This is where he discovered his strong desire to be a painter. During his 20-year career in the U.S. Air Force, he would struggle with his different painting instructors. They would try and encourage abstract painting over other types of painting. When Bob Ross was working as a bartender part-time, he saw a television show called The Magic of Oil Painting. It was hosted by Bill Alexander who was a German painter. During the show, Alexander would use a style of painting commonly known as wet on wet. This made it possible for him to complete a painting in approximately 30 minutes or less. Ross was inspired and studied the wet on wet painting technique. He because good at it from watching the show hosted by Bill Alexander. Bob Ross then started selling novelty gold pans with an Alaskan landscape he had painted on them. The gold pans with his paintings were a success. Soon Ross was making more money doing that than being in the military. In 1981, Bob Ross retired from the Air force at the rank of Master Sergeant. He had served for 20 years.

Painting Business

After leaving the Air Force, Ross traveled to Florida and studied painting from Bill Alexander. He then joined Alexander Magic Art Supplies company. Ross then worked as a tutor and traveling salesman. Bob Ross and his wife were convinced this was a good opportunity. They put their life savings into the company. In the beginning, it was a real struggle. This is when the permed hairstyle of Bob Ross happened. It was a way to save money because paying to keep his crew cut cost too much. He didn’t really like the permed hairstyle, but he decided to keep it during his painting career.

Bob Ross Book
Bob Ross Book

The Joy Of Painting

The events that led to the creation of the television show, The Joy of Painting are not known. At a PBS station in Muncie, Indiana is the studio where the program was recorded. The Joy of Painting first aired on January 11, 1983, and the last episode was shown in 1994. Its reruns are still shown on many broadcast stations in the United States and several other countries. The show is also broadcast on Create, a non-commercial digital sub-channel. Ross would instruct those who watched each half-hour segment on doing a quick-study technique to make oil paintings. He would use his imagination and a limited palette of paint. Ross would break the painting process down into simple steps. His slow pace of speech and soft voice became his trademark.

Bob Ross painting during The Joy of Painting
Bob Ross painting during The Joy of Painting

Bob Ross Inc.

Annette Kowalski and Bob Ross were business partners. Together they built a business worth over $15 million called Bob Ross Inc. The business sold his how-to-books, the Bob Ross line of art supplies as well as marketed painting classes given by those who had been trained in the Bob Ross painting method. All the paintings done by Bob Ross during The Joy of Painting shows were donated to PBS stations.

Bob Ross painting
Bob Ross painting

Media Appearances

Bob Ross was invited on stage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee by Hank Snow in 1987. The audience gave him a standing ovation. In 1989, he appeared on The Joan Rivers Show and in 1992 he was on a live show with Kathie Lee Gifford and Regis Philbin. In 1994, Phil Donahue watched a few episodes of The Joy of Painting and offered to have Bob Ross on his show. During the Phil Donahue show, Bob Ross invited five people from the audience onto the stage, so they could do a painting. Phil Donahue also did a painting during that episode of his show. During the early 90s, Bob Ross did a number of promotional spots on MTV.

Bob Ross with family in 1987
Bob Ross with family in 1987

Personal Life

Bob Ross married Vivian Ridge in 1965. They had a son Steven. Steven Ross was a talented painter like his father. He would occasionally be on his father's show The Joy of Painting. Steven was also a Ross-certified instructor. Vivian and Steve Ross divorced in 1977. During this year, Bob Ross married Jane Lee Zanardelli. The couple had no children. In 1992, Jane Ross died of cancer. Bob Ross then married Lynda Brown two months prior to his death in 1995.


In the spring of 1994, Bob Ross was diagnosed with lymphoma. The illness eventually made him retire from his show. On May 17, 1994, the last episode of The Joy of Painting was broadcast. Bob Ross died on July 4, 1995, at the age of 52. Ross kept his lymphoma diagnosis a secret from the public. It was not known by anyone other than his friends and family until after he had died. The remains of Bob Ross are interred in Gotha, Florida at Woodlawn Memorial Park.




New York Times

© 2019 Readmikenow


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    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      5 months ago

      Yves, thank you for taking the time to read my article. I agree. He is a painting icon and very likable. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • savvydating profile image


      5 months ago

      Hi Mike.... I used to tune into the show every now and again. I remember being amazed by his quick delivery of lovely landscapes. I thought of Bob Ross when I tried to do my one and only oil painting of a field and sky, with shrubbery in the forefront. It was not entirely ugly, so I framed the darn thing and gave it to my son. He said he really liked it and hung it up. Poor guy. What else could he do?

      Anyhoo....that's my painting story.

      Bob Ross did indeed have a pleasant way about him. Funny that he was once a Master Sergeant who later wore an Afro out of convenience. An interesting piece you've written here about a beloved television personality. He was so easy to like.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      8 months ago

      Carol, thanks. I agree, his programs are so well done as well as inspiring.

    • Carol Morris profile image

      Carol Morris 

      8 months ago

      My daughter and I love Bob Ross. Thanks for this hub, I really enjoyed it!

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      11 months ago

      Audrey, thanks. My wife has watched him for years and will paint on an occasion. I'm sure he has inspired many people.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      11 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Who doesn't love Bob Ross? I miss watching his show and the soft way he presented painting. He was one, special man. What a pity that he left us so soon.

      Thank you for this tribute to him. I enjoyed reading about his life.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      12 months ago

      Marlene, thanks. My wife got me interested in Bob Ross as she likes to paint. I found his story fascinating.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      12 months ago from USA

      I remember watching that show. I enjoyed it and actually learned how to paint a few things. I use some of his techniques on the garden plaques that I paint. I was so happy when I discovered his shows on YouTube.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      16 months ago

      MsDora, thanks. His soft way of speaking and how he presented things almost had me did have my wife painting.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      16 months ago from The Caribbean

      I remember watching the Joy of Painting on PBS. Thanks for sharing Bob Ross' background. He proved that anything worth doing is worth doing well.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      16 months ago

      Liz, thanks. He was quite popular when he had his show.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      16 months ago from UK

      I had not heard of this painter until I read your article. So sad that he died at such a young age.


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