Netflix Documentary Sheds Light on an Untold Side of Bob Ross



This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Charisma Knowell, Staff Writer

Bob Ross was a television art instructor that helped spark the creativity of people of all ages throughout the world. The Netflix documentary “Bob Ross, Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed” highlighted the unknown and dark side to Bob Ross’ legacy. This featured Bob’s overall impact on the world and what happened to his brand during the later years after his death. However, as the title suggests, another major theme of the documentary was how Bob’s business partners Walt and Annette Kowalski essentially betrayed him by becoming sole owners of Bob Ross Inc. after his death, which he did not want to happen.

John Thamm, an artist and close friend of Bob Ross, stated, “Bob saw a video done by Willaim Alexander, and he was very taken with what William was doing.”

Willam Alexander was able to complete an astonishing painting in a matter of minutes, while the same painting would take Bob Ross days or even months to finish. William’s style of painting is known as “alla prima” (first attempt), which greatly influenced the style Ross is known for.

Ross’ globally renowned show titled “The Joy of Painting” ran for eleven years. During that time, it inspired many people from around the world to express their creativity through painting. Bob Ross is known for his distinctive permed hair and his encouraging phrase “We don’t make mistakes; we have happy accidents.” However, most viewers were unaware of what went on behind the scenes.

Ross was faced with many hardships and difficulties behind the scenes, such as the grief he felt after the death of his wife. Even through the hardships, Bob Ross kept his positive attitude and greatly impacted the lives of many people with his kindness.

After Ross’ death in 1995, due to lymphoma when he was only 52 years old, the fight for his empire intensified. In the documentary Steve Ross, Bob Ross’ son, stated his dad spent the final years of his life trying to prevent his name and likeness being turned over to the Kowalski family, though the efforts were ultimately unsuccessful in the end. Ross did leave his estate and the rights to his name and likeness to both his son Steve and Steve’s half-brother Jimmie Cox.

Walt and Annette sued Jimmie Cox and claimed that Ross’ life work was owned by them. They did win this lawsuit because Jimmie Cox settled by signing over all the rights to the Kowalskis due to the overwhelming legal pressure he faced from them in 1997. Walt and Annette Kowalski basically took over Ross’ estate, which prompted another legal battle against them and his family for control of his assets, image, and even his overall reputation. Today, both Walt and Annette Kowalsk are retired and Bob Ross Inc. is owned/managed by their daughter Joan.

There is no doubt that Bob Ross will be remembered as a man that shared his distinctive and unique creativity that helped spark the same creativity within many others as well. He has greatly inspired many generations with his kindness. Walt and Annette Kowalski may have won the rights to Bob’s image, but the he has created, despite the hardships he faced, will remain long into the future. Bob Ross will be thought of and remembered for the positive impact he has had on the world for generations to come.