The Ugly Truth Behind the Bob Ross Inc. Empire

The curly haired, soft spoken, and positive painter, Bob Ross, known for his friendly demeanor and nature landscapes, first introduced his groundbreaking instructional television show in 1983 with the debut of, “The Joy of Painting”. He was the creator and host of this show for over a decade, forever leaving his mark in America’s hearts.

     Although Ross was known for his happy clouds, and little happy trees, his life was far from perfect after the damage that his financial empire produced, smearing the paint on his life’s canvas permanently until his untimely death.

     A new documentary produced by Netflix has sparked rumors and forced frayed relationships to resurface. Many are questioning the motives of Ross’s managers at the time, Walt and Annette Kowalski, who have been accused of stealing the Bob Ross name after years of deceit in the new film, “Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed.”

     Following this gentle soul’s loss to his battle of lymphoma in 1995 at the age of fifty-two, Bob Ross Incorporation was then handed over to the Kowalski’s despite Ross’s wishes in his will where he stated that his life’s work would go to his half-brother, Jim Ross, and his son, Steve.

     However, given Steve’s age at the time of his father’s death, Ross wanted to ensure that the money would be managed responsibly, therefore, giving Jim 51% control and his son only 49% until he was of a certain age.

     The storm of financial misfortune began brewing the moment the Kowalski’s first walked into Ross’s life when Annette attended a workshop, where she sought comfort in painting, from a charming man, who stressed the importance of life’s “happy accidents,” a much-needed reminder after suffering the unexpected loss of her son.

     A close friend to Ross and fellow artist, John Hamm, recalls when Annette approached his buddy after a tutorial and declared, “I don’t know what you’ve got, but I think we ought to bottle and sell it.”

     Hamm then described how Bob was so down to earth. “He never wanted much. He was just not into it for the money. But the Kowalski’s certainly were,” John laughed.

     Ross being young at the time, with no money to his name, told Steve and his wife, Jane, to back their bags after he was asked to move to Washington D.C. to permanently live with the Kowalski’s in their family home.

    Nevertheless, the situation within the home began to escalate as there were rumors of scandal.

    “There was an affair between my father and Annette, yes,” Steve admitted as he took a long swig of his coffee.

    Steve remembered overhearing arguments between his father and stepmother after he was confronted about the affair. Yet, the couple was able to resolve their issues before Jane’s tragic death a few years later.

     Once Jane passed away Steve revealed that his father lost a vote.

    “The Kowalski’s and my parents had a system and would vote on different matters. Once Jane died, my father had no say in his own life,” Steve shuddered.

     It was only when Ross was losing strength that the Kowalski’s “asked” Bob to sign a memorial agreement.

     “It looked to me like they were trying to get Bob to sign his name over to them. You could hear him screaming, ‘I’m not giving you, my name,’” Steve trembled.

     It was no surprise, however, that the Kowalskis in a legal statement on behalf of Bob ross Inc. blatantly denied the affair and any dispute with Bob Ross.

    This said, the documentary was unable to get more than a dozen people who knew Ross to be interviewed for the film in fear of legal repercussions.

    Once Ross was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s, those in his inner circle reveal on the documentary his use of wet-on-wet paint that required the use of thinner, leaving many to speculate the chemicals within the paint to be the reason for his cancer.

     Despite the suffering endured by Ross in his later episodes, producer, Dana Jester, talks about how he insisted on filming.

     “When you see all those later series, he was literally suffering from cancer. He wanted to film at least three episodes per day in his last months,” Jester said.

    It was no shock that the Kowalskis were not in attendance at his funeral.

     “Even worse, they tried to keep secret the fact that the funeral was even happening,” Jester retorted.

     Despite what occurred behind the scenes, many will still remember this iconic perm, soothing voice, and vast mountains that will always live within the 31 seasons of Ross’s show.

     Followers now hope that Ross is in a happy place filled with plenty of little trees.

     “Nothing hurts here. No pain. Nobody’s unhappy. Everything’s nice here.”

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