Amongst the pantheon of notable public television personalities, Bob Ross easily ranks alongside the likes of Mr Rogers and Elmo as a star who is almost universally loved and respected by the public. Despite being famous the world over for his balmy, soothing demeanour, his show The Joy of Painting and his amazing ‘fro, we know surprisingly little about arguably one of the best known artists in modern times.
This is partially because, for some reason, nobody ever really asked Bob Ross to do any interviews and he only gave a handful of them over the course of his life. In fact, in one of the surprisingly few quotes from the man himself that don’t come from his show, he stated “I never turn down requests for interviews. I’m just rarely asked”. However, in another interview Ross gave with Egg Magazine, who specifically sought him out because they realised nobody knew anything about him, Ross sheepishly admitted that he liked to “stay hidden” adding that he was “sort of hard to find“. In fact, Ross was so hard to find that PBS once lost track of him, though it would seem few, if anybody, noticed, until Ross called to let them know he’d moved to Orlando after the fact.
As a result of Ross’ love of privacy, coupled with the apathetic attitude of interviewers back then, details about his life are notoriously hazy and difficult to nail down to the point that even the book, Happy Clouds, Happy Trees: The Bob Ross Phenomenon, chronicling his life and career was, in the end, forced to admit that their “text is… about an understanding we have of Bob Ross and his life. If we had wanted to write an accurate biographical book on Bob Ross, that goal would be difficult to accomplish“.
A further hurdle for those looking to write about Ross is that his company, Bob Ross, Inc, today is fiercely protective of their intellectual property and Bob Ross’ privacy, even in death. One of the few things they’ve authorised that would come close to an “official” biography of his life is a documentary titled “Bob Ross: The Happy Painter” that can be viewed by pledging money to PBS or by tracking down a copy of the DVD, which is exactly what I had to end up doing to fill in the huge gaps of what I could find elsewhere about the elusive Bob Ross.
Finally, although Ross was a notable public figure who did a lot of charity work and met with hundreds, if not thousands of people over his lifetime, he only had a handful of close friends who understandably don’t like discussing his life out of respect for his privacy. In fact, some of the only known interviews with Ross’ family and friends about him can only be found today in the documentary mentioned previously.