In contemporary art, few individuals have achieved the popularity that Bob Ross enjoyed. He was widely recognized thanks to his show ‘The Joy of Painting,’ which ran from 1983 to 1994. Ross died in 1995, leaving a substantial net worth behind due to his artistic endeavors.
The painter was born in 1942 in Florida. A humble beginning saw him dropping out of school in the ninth grade to work alongside his carpenter father and later joining the Air Force at 18. His military career spanned two decades, primarily as a drill sergeant in Fairbanks, Alaska.
During his time in the Air Force, Ross turned to painting as a form of solace after stressful training days. This marked the beginning of his artistic journey. He developed the ‘wet-on-wet‘ technique, which involved rapidly applying layers of oil paint without waiting for previous layers to dry. It allowed him to complete a canvas in under 30 minutes, a format well-suited for television.
‘The Joy of Painting,’ Ross’ television show, debuted on January 11, 1983. Despite his newfound fame, the late artist remained a down-to-earth and private individual, dedicating much of his time to caring for animals. He enjoyed simple pleasures like taking joy rides in his 1969 Chevy Corvette.
Bob’s life mirrored the positivity he radiated on screen. Yet, his passing would add a sad touch to his journey. Ross, a lifelong smoker, had experienced two heart attacks and a previous battle with cancer by his 40s. In 1994, he was diagnosed with lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. His health deteriorated rapidly, which was evident in his final televised appearance.
He passed away on July 4, 1995, in Orlando, Florida, near his place of birth. His gravestone just says ‘television artist,’ and people often leave paintings there as a sign of admiration. At the time of his death, the painter had a net worth of $1 million, not including the value of his name, likeness, and art collection. The rights to his name and likeness would later become highly valuable, sparking a legal battle over his estate.
The disputes began before his death when his business partner, Walt Kowalski, sought complete ownership over Ross’ name, likeness, and creations. In 1992, tension rose as his second wife, Jane, passed away, and her share was split between Ross and the Kowalskis, who had a big stake in Bob Ross, Inc.
Ross argued with the Kowalskis before his death but made a late change to his will, giving the rights to his name and likeness to his son, Steve, and his estate to his third wife, Lynda, whom he wed on his deathbed.
After Bob’s death, reruns of ‘The Joy of Painting’ continued for a few years, but the artist and his work gradually faded from public memory. The resurgence of the painter’s popularity came in 2015 when Bob Ross, Inc. collaborated with the streaming service Twitch to host a marathon of ‘The Joy of Painting.’