What Happened To Bob Ross' Wives?

Bob Ross, the lovable soft-spoken artist, rose to fame on PBS with his show "The Joy of Painting," which aired from 1983 to 1994. He is remembered for his signature afro, denim outfits, gentle demeanor, and of course, his effortless yet gorgeous paintings. It would be hard to meet someone who has not heard of Ross and his "happy little trees," which became a bit of a trademark catchphrase (via Britannica). 

Despite the fact that "The Joy of Painting" ended its run on PBS back in 1994, Ross has had a resurgence in popularity in the 21st century among Millennials. This is largely due to a widespread desire for authenticity (via TMH). In a fast-paced world of constant information where what is true or false is often unclear, it's refreshing to watch a guy who just enjoys painting and shares his joy of the craft with anyone who cares to listen. As explained by Yahoo, the appeal of Bob Ross spread even more during the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 as people sought out new hobbies to pass the days in lockdown.  

His first wife appears in a Netflix documentary

One major thing that has changed since Bob Ross was a PBS regular is the ease of access to the private life of a public figure. As a new generation continues discovers Bob Ross, his newfound popularity has raised questions about his personal life. In the 2021 Netflix documentary "Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed," Ross' wife and son appear. However, Ross married more than once (via The New Yorker).

Cinemaholic explains that Ross met his first wife, Vicky Ridge, not long after he had enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1961. They got married in 1965 just before Ross left to report to an Air Force base in Alaska. She stated that he painted frequently, even for long hours at a time. Ross shared one son with her, named Steve. Not much else is confirmed about her life after her divorce with Ross in 1977 — allegedly due to Ross' cheating — other than the photos that she occasionally shares and her appearance in the documentary. 

His second wife was a business partner

Bob Ross was living in Washington when he met Jane Zanardelli who was a secretary for the Air Force base nearby. Once he hit 20 years of active duty in the Air Force, he retired and made a deal with Zanardelli to pursue his dream of painting. He stated that, "I asked for one year. If I ran out of money before that, I'd get a real job" (via Cinemaholic). Given that he became a household name, it is safe to say that Ross never had to "get a real job."

After making this agreement, Ross began working for Bill Alexander, who also had a painting show on PBS. Ross became his successor when he pitched "The Joy of Painting" as a new show backed by Alexander himself. The success continued and in 1985, Zanardelli became a partner in Bob Ross, Inc. along with other business partners Walt and Annette Kowalski. The Kowalskis were fans of Alexander who had urged Ross to give painting seminars prior to creating "The Joy of Painting." Zanardelli passed away from cancer in 1992. Her stock was divided equally among the surviving three partners. Therefore, Ross ended up owning only one third of Bob Ross, Inc. (via The Daily Beast).

He married again just before he died

Soon after his second wife died of cancer, Bob Ross was diagnosed as well. The Daily Beast stated that as his health declined, Ross gave the rights to his name, likeness, and intellectual property to his son and his half brother. He then married his third wife Lynda Brown just two months before he died in 1995. This marriage and will designations complicated the future of Bob Ross, Inc. and his estate. Walt and Annette Kowalski now owned all the rights to Bob Ross, Inc. They claimed ownership of physical property as well, asking that Brown comply with plans to divide up Ross' $1.3 million in net worth. They even hit Brown with a lawsuit for damages, lost profit, attorney fees, and physical items like finished paintings.

Michael Schulman of The New Yorker believes that Ross married Brown perhaps as a defensive tactic as the Kowalski's were asking Ross to sign over his name and likeness to them once it became clear that he would not make a recovery. However, Ross' half brother turned over these intellectual property rights to the Kowalskis in 1997. 

Other than these legal battles, Ross' widow seems to be out of the spotlight even more than his first wife, Vicky Ridge. There is no information about Brown's current whereabouts (via Cinemaholic). Perhaps they all took inspiration from Ross' desire to keep his personal life private and chose to do so as well.