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Bob Ross: One of America’s Most Beloved Painters

Readmikenow has written about various medical conditions. He has previously written a series of articles on Polyarteritis nodosa.

Bob Ross on "The Joy of Painting"

Bob Ross on "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 was injured.

Bob Ross in Air Force

Bob Ross in Air Force

Military Career

In 1961, 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

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 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, and became good at it from watching the show hosted by Alexander. 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, he 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. He and his wife were convinced this was a good opportunity, and they put their life savings into the company. In the beginning, it was a real struggle. This is when Ross' permed hairstyle 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

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The events that led to the creation of the television show, The Joy of Painting are not known. A PBS station in Muncie, Indiana was 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 Ross during The Joy of Painting shows were donated to PBS stations.

Bob Ross painting

Bob Ross painting

Media Appearances

Ross was invited on stage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville 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 Ross on his show. During The Phil Donahue Show, Ross invited five people from the audience onto the stage so they could do a painting. Donahue also did a painting during that episode. During the early '90s, Ross also did a number of promotional spots on MTV.

Bob Ross with family in 1987

Bob Ross with family in 1987

Personal Life

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


In the spring of 1994, 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. 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. Ross' remains are interred in Gotha, Florida at Woodlawn Memorial Park.




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© 2019 Readmikenow


Readmikenow (author) on January 27, 2020:

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.

Yves on January 26, 2020:

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 (author) on October 12, 2019:

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

Carol Morris on October 12, 2019:

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

Readmikenow (author) on July 15, 2019:

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

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on July 14, 2019:

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 (author) on June 14, 2019:

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

Marlene Bertrand from USA on June 14, 2019:

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 (author) on February 27, 2019:

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

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 27, 2019:

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 (author) on February 27, 2019:

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

Liz Westwood from UK on February 27, 2019:

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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