This Is What The Last 12 Months Of Bob Ross' Life Were Like

Television artist Bob Ross inspired generations of young painters to explore their creativity and use their "happy accidents" to create beautiful images on the canvas. According to Britannica, his popular painting instruction show, "The Joy of Painting," ran for over a decade on PBS, from 1983 to 1994. Born and raised in Florida, Ross learned his signature technique from another TV painting teacher, Bill Alexander of the PBS show "The Magic of Oil Painting" (1974-1982). The technique involved placing wet oil paint on other wet paint, rather than waiting for layers to dry. This allowed him to finish pieces quickly for his TV audience and sneak in a mischievous tree or errant cloud whenever his whim told him to. 

That easy-going, free-spirited attitude and his aura of that uncle who always has a huge smile on his face and smells a bit funny at the family reunion endeared him to viewers from coast to coast. Even if you started watching "The Joy of Painting" to make fun of his calm demeanor, whispery voice, and tendency to anthropomorphize every object he painted with characteristics that would please a toddler, by the end of the episode you were saying, "Wow, that's really good!"

Who knows how many more paintings Bob Ross had in him? Unfortunately, he was taken from the world all too soon at the age of just 52. Let's take a look at the painter's final 12 months and see how such a colorful life was cut so tragically short.

Bob Ross' business partners stole his likeness in the last year of his life

Although he loved to share his happy trees, clouds, hills, etc. with his legions of faithful viewers, Bob Ross kept his personal life mostly to himself. He wasn't big on interviews. He liked to show people how to paint landscapes and then return to his comfortable obscurity. And this characteristic led him to keep a secret from his fans and the rest of the public over the last few years of his life. According to the Orlando Sentinel, after his death in 1995, a spokeswoman for his company, Bob Ross Inc., said in a statement that the happy-go-lucky artist had been struggling with lymphoma for years. Still, his viewers had to suspect something when they were forced to watch reruns instead of new paintings. 

Little did they know, during the last 12 months of his life, Bob Ross was locked in a heated legal battle with the business partners with whom he had founded Bob Ross, Inc. According to The Daily Beast, when his cancer returned, Annette and Walk Kowalski pressured Bob to sign over all the rights of his likeness to the company. The painter amended his will in an attempt to thwart their move to shift his estate away from his family, but some fancy legal finagling after his death allowed the Kowalskis to create an empire of Bob Ross-themed merchandise. They got rich, while Bob's family received nothing. Protecting his estate from them may have been Bob's motivation for marrying his third wife, Lynda.

Bob Ross married his third wife just two months before his death

Most of what we know about Bob's third marriage has been made public in the decades following his death, due to the legal battles over his estate. His obituary in The New York Times mentions his second wife, Jane, who died in 1993, but says nothing of Lynda. Among the sources that tell of Lynda is the surprisingly detailed biography of Ross on Answers Africa, which states that the couple got married just two months before his death in 1995. Now, with investigations like that done by The Daily Beast, we can assume that his last-minute marriage to Lynda had financial, as well as romantic motives. 

Ross' adherence to secrecy in his personal life has left us with very little information about who Lynda was. But a woman claiming to be his first wife, Vicky Ross, commented on an article about Bob's life on Today I Found Out in 2018 in order to clear up the misinformation about his third wife. (Some rumors falsely claimed that Lynda was actually Vicky after a name change.) In the comment, the alleged Vicky Ross wrote that Lynda's maiden name had been Brown and that she had met the painter at his doctor's office, where she worked. She had short brown hair and wasn't afraid to pursue a man romantically. She sent Bob an invitation to dinner via her son, and the two were married just two months before his death.

Bob Ross' net worth at the time of his death

PBS probably isn't on the top of most people's lists of how to strike it rich. But Bob Ross was no average joe. His show was a huge success for the channel — not just in the United States; "The Joy of Painting" was also syndicated in Canada, Latin America, and Europe, boasting millions of weekly viewers — and his art supply company took off and made money as a result of that celebrity. Ross may not have been the type to have diamonds dripping off his neck, wrists, and fingers, but he could have shown off a little ice had he wanted to. According to Celebrity Net Worth, everyone's favorite art teacher was worth a cool $10 million at the time of his death.

Ross really didn't make any money from the show itself. He basically did the public broadcasting gig for free. But the show was the perfect ad campaign for his line of painting kits, video tapes, and how-to painting books. His income from these products during his lifetime was anywhere from $15-20 million. And although he's gone, he still continues to make lots of money for his heirs via the company he founded. In fact, while he was pretty popular as the host of a syndicated television show, his renown has really exploded with the advent of the internet and 21st-century nostalgia for decades past. 

The 21st-century resurgence of Bob Ross' popularity

In 2016, Ross' former business partner, Annette Kowalski, told NPR about the painter's final days, after he learned the diagnosis was terminal. The two would sit on a bench outside the hospital where he was being treated. One day, as the two looked out over a nearby lake, Bob became uncharacteristically open with his feelings about her. "Bob was not always full of compliments, but he said to me, 'Annette, you are the wind beneath my wings.' And that is what I'm left with and it means so much to me," she said. "He was really wonderful. I want Bob back."

Ross left his company to Annette and her husband Walter, and the two have continued to find success with it, both with art supplies, and also with a streaming contract for "The Joy of Painting" on Netflix. Through their efforts, Bob continues to teach us all how to turn life's happy accidents into things of beauty. One platform on which they've found huge success has been YouTube. The official Bob Ross The Joy of Painting channel has just under five million subscribers, and his videos regularly rack up seven- and eight-digit view tallies. And as Celebrity Net Worth points out, Annette and Walter have also approved his image to be featured on products like clothing, costumes, Chia Pets, puzzles, soaps, coloring books, and other items, further increasing his popularity well into the 21st century. His original paintings are also prized items that sometimes sell for thousands of dollars.