12 Weird Things You Didn't Know About Bob Ross

Bob Ross was a prolific painter who created and starred in the popular PBS television show The Joy of Painting, where he taught viewers how to create landscapes using the wet-on-wet technique. While he was well-known as an optimistic, soft-spoken artist - the Mr. Rogers of painting, really - there is quite a bit of amazing Bob Ross information out there that the public may not know. For example, what did he do before he started painting? How many "happy trees" did he actually paint? And exactly how did he feel about his infamous perm? 

Although Ross passed away at age 52 due to lymphoma in 1995, his fame has not diminished. His videos have millions of views on YouTube and he has over 600,000 followers on Twitch, where PBS regularly marathons episodes of The Joy of Painting. His soothing voice continues to calm people and his endless cache of inspirational quotes, like, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents,” is more relevant than ever.

In the words of the immortal painter, “Let’s get crazy.” Check out these awesome Bob Ross facts and get ready to appreciate the legend that is Bob Ross.

Photo: PBS

  • He Hated His Perm

    He Hated His Perm
    Photo: PBS

    Bob Ross’s bushy do was an integral part of his trademark look, but it might surprise some fans to learn that his hair was naturally straight. He chose to get a perm because he thought he could save money by not having to get haircuts.

    Yet, Ross later regretted the lush, curly locks and wanted to change his hair back to its natural state. By that point, however, his company had already included Ross’s iconic hair in the company logo, and there was no going back.

  • He And His Former Mentor Were Rivals

    He And His Former Mentor Were Rivals
    Photo: Alexander Art- The Home of Bill Alexander / YouTube

    Bob Ross used to sing the praises of his former mentor, Bill Alexander - the man who taught Ross the wet-on-wet technique that was popularized by The Joy of Painting. Like Ross, Alexander also had a show on PBS, called The Magic of Oil Painting. The show finished airing in 1982, a year before The Joy of Painting graced television screens. Ross modeled his show after Alexander's, and, like Alexander, used his show to market a line of painting supplies. While Alexander's show was popular, Ross’s show and empire were more successful, partly due to Ross's soothing dulcet tones and attractive persona.  

    Ostensibly, the rivalry between mentor and student stemmed from (surprise, surprise) money. "He betrayed me," Alexander said of Ross, according to a report from The New York Times. "I trained him and he is copying me - what bothers me is not just that he betrayed me, but that he thinks he can do it better."

    When asked about Alexander in the same story, Ross declined to discuss his former mentor, saying, “Now he is our major competitor.” Classy.

  • He Was A Sergeant In The Air Force

    It’s difficult to look at Bob Ross and think he was anything other than the soft-spoken guy who loved nature and marveled at every happy little tree he brought into the world. Yet before Ross took up painting, he was a sergeant in the Air Force. A fierce, take-no-prisoners sergeant.

    Ross said the following about his time in the Air Force:

    I was 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. The job requires you to be a mean, tough person. And I was fed up with it. I promised myself that if I ever got away from it, it wasn't going to be that way anymore.

    Although it’s hard to imagine Ross in such a role, his time at the Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska undoubtedly influenced his later work. It was in Alaska where he saw snow and mountains for the first time, both of which were heavily featured in his paintings.

  • 90% Of His Audience Did Not Paint

    It's hard to believe anybody could watch this maestro at his easel and not be tempted to pick up a paintbrush, but the truth is most of Bob Ross's audience didn't paint. According to Biography.com, about 90% of Ross's viewers never tried their hand at their own paintings. So why did they watch? Some tuned in for Ross’s welcoming persona and positive musings about life. Others tuned in because it helped lull them to sleep. 

    "The majority of our audience does not paint, has no desire to paint, will never paint,"  Ross told the Orlando Sentinel in 1990. "They watch it strictly for entertainment value or for relaxation. We've gotten letters from people who say they sleep better when the show is on."

  • He Made 3 Copies Of Each Painting

    Bob Ross tirelessly churned out three copies of every painting that appeared on The Joy of Painting. He kept the first painting off-screen and used it as a reference as he worked on the copy that appeared on the show. The final painting was completed after the episode was shot. A photographer would take pictures of Ross painting this final copy, and these images would appear in Ross’s how-to books. 

    Three copies of each landscape equal three times as many happy trees. Imagine.

  • PBS Didn’t Pay Him For 'The Joy Of Painting'

    Bob Ross generously filmed 31 seasons of The Joy of Painting, but PBS didn't pay the artistic genius for a single episode. Instead, Ross used the show to market his brand. He made most of his money from his company, Bob Ross Inc., selling art supplies and instructional guides.

    The company also offered painting classes taught by artists trained in Ross's singular methods.