How Did Beloved Artist Bob Ross Die?

Bob Ross captured viewers’ hearts as a bushy-haired, soft-spoken painting instructor on The Joy of Painting. The TV show aired on PBS from 1983 to 1994. Throughout this decade, Ross taught us there are no mistakes in art, only “happy accidents.”

He made great contributions to art, but his life was tragically cut short. 

Bob Ross discovered painting in the military 

TV painting instructor/artist Bob Ross paints a landscape as his pet crow holds a paintbrush in its beak while perched on Ross's easel
Bob Ross | Acey Harper/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

On October 29, 1942, Bob Ross was born in Daytona Beach, Florida. Years later, he dropped out of high school his freshman year. Soon he began working for his father as a carpenter.

But one day on the job, Ross lost half of his left index finger. Luckily, the lost appendage wouldn’t affect his ability to hold a paintbrush. 

Of all places, Ross developed his interest in painting during his military career. When he was 18 years old, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. He rose through the ranks, retiring as a master sergeant at the end of his 20-year military career.

During this time, Ross also began taking art classes. He studied other artists and mastered painting techniques. Just two years after retiring from the Air Force, he landed his own TV show, The Joy of Painting

Ross became a legend in the art community 

On The Joy of PaintingRoss inspired millions of people worldwide to pick up a paintbrush. He specialized in painting landscape scenes with his unique wet-on-wet oil painting technique. His soothing voice, encouraging attitude, and philosophical outlook on life, love, and art captivated audiences. These qualities also encouraged millions to try painting through his tutorials. 

Though The Joy of Painting ended in 1994, episodes still air regularly on PBS and Twitch. Ross rose to fame on the show and became a legend of the art community. Decades later, he’s still inspiring new artists to perfect the craft of painting. According to Two Inch Brush, because reruns of The Joy of Painting are still airing, many viewers are surprised to learn that the artist is no longer with us. 

He battled cancer in secret 

Through reruns of The Joy of Painting, the beloved Bob Ross continues to teach people how to paint. But while recording episodes for his series, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He decided to keep his cancer diagnosis a secret from his audience and the public.

Ross lost his battle on July 4, 1995. His death came as a shock to many fans. No one outside of his family and close friends knew of his diagnosis. He died at just 52 years old. 

After his untimely death, his family found a way to keep his legacy alive. Bob Ross Inc. sells hundreds of painting supplies, books, and recordings of the TV show. You can buy Bob Ross-branded paints, brushes, coffee mugs, graphic tees, and even underwear, but getting your hands on a Bob Ross original painting is difficult.

According to The Hustle, Ross produced over 30,000 paintings. However, these original pieces rarely pop up for sale. When they appear, they generally fetch $10,000 or more. Though the beloved artist is gone, he still makes an impact on the art community today. 

RELATED: Bob Ross Created Nearly 3 Times As Many Paintings as Picasso in His Lifetime