The Story Behind The Death Threats Against Barney The Dinosaur

Despite being marketed to toddlers and kids, children's shows can often be rife with controversy and drama. One such children's show ripe for that exact problem was "Barney and Friends." As Encyclopedia says, "Barney and Friends" starred a purple talking dinosaur that teaches kids how to make friends and be kind to people. The show was originally the brainchild of Sheryl Leach back in 1988. Her primary reason for creating Barney was that she wanted better educational content that would both amuse and educate her child. Leach marketed her initial Barney videos to various daycares before the show was finally picked up by PBS in 1991, becoming "Barney and Friends." 

However, Barney's history wasn't always rainbows and sunshine. Over the years, Barney garnered widespread hatred from many people. As the Dallas Observer says, a new docuseries called "I Love You, You Hate Me" debuted in October 2022 and talks a bit about where the hate came from and why the situation wound up devolving into death threats. What's the actual story behind these death threats?

The origin of the hate for Barney

The hatred for Barney could be considered some of the worst a TV show icon has ever received. In fact, the dislike for the purple dinosaur is so intense that it even has its own Wikipedia article dedicated to cataloging the phenomenon. But where did this hate come from? NBC News explains that a fair amount of the hate came from kids who outgrew Barney and looked upon the dinosaur with scorn. Bob West, the voice actor for Barney, elaborates on this. "The specific motivation was growing up," he told NBC. "The people who sent me those threats were all kids in middle school. They were doing the thing where they're trying to throw off childhood and trying to be cool."

As The Times says, the actors who'd dress up as Barney on the show, such as David Joyner, would often receive threats in the mail. Despite Barney enjoying immense popularity at the time, this bourgeoning hatred would smolder into something else entirely. It would go from children expressing hate towards the show to gruesome death threats being sent to the show's staff.

Barney staff feared for their lives

The hatred for Barney had reached a breaking point that has arguably been unrivaled by any other children's show since. Things had also turned incredibly violent for the people working on the show. As The Times says, David Joyner noted, "They were violent and explicit: death and dismemberment of my family. They were going to find me, and they were going to kill me." Joel Chiodi, one of Scout Production's executives, had said that Barney was one of the early progenitors of what would become hate culture. 

As Bob West told NBC News, he had tried to fight back against the hate early on by responding to the mail. "I actually responded to a lot of them — when I was still on AOL and it was cool to be on AOL — and most of them would write back and say, 'Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't realize there was a real person that was going to answer.' I never heard back from some," he said. While there was plenty of avid hate for Barney, West said that the love did outweigh the hate. "Barney was loved by far more people than he was ever hated. It's not a true statement to say that he was equally loved and hated," he said.