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The Life Of The Beloved Artist Bob Ross Is One Full Of Joy And Hardship

The Joy Of Painting

Many people remember seeing the TV show, The Joy Of Painting when they were growing up. When the last episode aired on public access TV after 400 episodes on May 17, 1994, it was the end of an era. Most people didn’t know too much about Bob Ross, other than he was an artist and he had a soothing, laid-back manner. What people don’t know is that the life of the beloved artist Bob Ross is one full of joy and hardship.


Bob spent his childhood living in Daytona, Florida. You would think that it was his parents that piqued his interests as an artist, but they didn’t. His father was a carpenter, and Bob spent a lot of time with him in his workshop. When he was a freshman in high school, he dropped out of school so that he could help his father at the workshop full time.

Joining the Military

In 1961, when Bob was 18-years-old, he joined the United States Air Force. He took to being in the military quickly, and during the 20 years he spent in the military, he was promoted many times. There was part of his military life that he hated. When he reached a certain rank, it was up to him to order his comrades around, and he had to make them take on undesirable duties. This was something that he didn’t enjoy. He went as far as to say that when he got out of the Air Force, he would never aggressively raise his voice again.


To make things better for himself in the military, he took up painting. He was stationed in Alaska, and the landscape was stunningly beautiful. For Bob, painting was always a hobby. He never expected it to become his whole life. There was a show featuring William Alexander, a former German POW during World War II who moved to America. He had his own painting instruction show, and Bob was so impressed by the show that he traveled to meet him.


During Bob’s trip, William taught him the technique that he would use on his own show one day called wet-on-wet painting. The technique requires you to use layers of oils on top of one another before the oil has a chance to dry. This method was perfect for the landscapes that Bob loved to paint. After meeting William, Bob decided that it was time to retire. He wanted to focus on his painting career.

Filling In

In 1981, Bob was asked to fill in for William during one of his shows. When William’s manager, Annette Kowalski came by during the show, she was impressed by Bob’s soothing voice and his demeanor. This helped him land a partnership deal through Annette. In January 1983, The Joy of Painting debuted on public television.

Bob’s Ideas

The world was introduced to the frizzy-haired artist, and they were impressed by his calming voice. Bob wanted to showcase his art, but he wanted to make painting something that everyone could do. He tried to paint with tools that were affordable because he understood that not everyone could afford expensive paints. He used the same paint and basic brushes. And he knew that if she started using expensive brushes and complex paints, he would end up losing his audience. His iconic hairstyle came about as a result of him cutting back financially. He didn’t like his afro, but to save money, he skipped out on haircuts. His style quickly made him famous.

PBS Moneymaker

The Joy of Painting quickly made money for PBS. They began selling his paint, pallets, easels, and brushes. People from all over the world wanted to harness his talent. Bookstores started carrying his instruction manuals, and he gave personal lessons to talented students. Although he had a considerable following, he kept his life private.


In the spring of 1994, after 11 years of doing the show, Bob was diagnosed with late-stage lymphoma. The treatment put a tremendous amount of pressure on Bob, and on May 17, 1994, he was forced to quit the show. A little over a year later, on July 4, 1995, he passed away, surrounded by his family. He was buried in New Smyrna, Florida, which was near where he grew up.

Feeling the Loss

When Bob died, his fans all over the world felt the loss. Even though he is gone, his legacy lives on. People around the globe are taking Bob Ross-themed art classes. A school in Texas had their student pay tribute to Bob by having them wear curly wigs while painting “happy little trees” on their canvases. There was even a favorable tribute to Bob in the superhero film, Deadpool. What started out as a hobby created an icon and a hero in many artists’ eyes.

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