Controversy Surrounding Bob Ross’ Cancer Death
- Bob Ross, who died at 52 after a battle with lymphoma, left behind a dynamite legacy, but one he never truly got to enjoy while he was alive. Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed takes a deeper look at what happened as the beloved television painter was dying from cancer.
- Steve Ross said his father wanted to bring the art world to a younger audience; he was even talking about working on a book for children, but that’s when Bob Ross became “really ill.” “The Kowalskis got angry that Bob looked sick,” Steve Ross said.
- When comparing lymphoma to other types of cancers, one of the main differences is that it comes in two categories — Hodgkin Lymphoma and non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. It remains unclear what type of lymphoma Bob Ross had.
But a new documentary released Wednesday on Netflix, Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed, paints a more complicated picture of the murkiness that surrounded the end of Ross’ life, and the power struggle some went through to acquire the rights to his name.Read More
Ross left behind a dynamite legacy, but one he never truly got to enjoy while he was alive. Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed takes a deeper look at what happened as the beloved television painter was dying from cancer.
Controversy Surrounding Bob Ross’ Cancer Death
The film, which is mostly narrated by interviews with his son Steve Ross, explains that after The Joy of Painting ended in 1994, Bob Ross tried to pursue a children’s show — something he had always wanted to do. He was even the guest star in the pilot episode of The Adventures of Elmer & Friends.
His father wanted to bring the art world to a younger audience, Steve Ross said. He was even talking about working on a book for children, but that’s when Bob Ross became “really ill.” He was wearing a wig and weighed less than 100 pounds, his son said.
“The Kowalskis got angry that Bob looked sick,” Steve Ross said. “He insisted he would be able to do the show, but Walt and Annette were totally against it.”
Annette and Walt Kowalski were Bob Ross’ long-time business partners during his rise to stardom through The Joy of Painting, and they co-founded Bob Ross Inc. The Kowalskis have also been involved in legal battles related to Bob Ross’ estate and his family over the right to his name and image.
“They both thought of Bob as something that they had packaged, and that they had made from the beginning,” Steve Ross said of the Kowalskis. “They didn’t want people to know he was sick.”
Steve Ross said that when his father was nearing the end of his life because of cancer, they had gone to the Kowalskis’ home; he went into the back bedroom with his father where he laid him down on the bed to rest.
“Annette started talking to me while the door was closed so Bob couldn’t hear,” Steve Ross said, “and she said, ‘You need to go in there and get Bob to sign this.’”
The document she handed Steve Ross was a contract for a memorial that the Kowalskis sought to build in Bob Ross’ name.
“It looked to me like they were trying to get Bob to sign his name over to them,” Steve said. The proposed contract read in part, according to the documentary, “Bob’s name and likeness have been registered to BRI and such trademarks are wholly owned assets of BRI.”
“I refused, and Annette became very angry,” Steve said. “He didn’t want to sign away the full rights to his name, but it didn’t stop them.”
In the weeks leading up to Bob’s death, the Kowalskis became “more desperate,” Steve Ross said.
“They were having big arguments over who’s going to possess his name after he died,” Steve said of his father’s name. He said he even remembers his father yelling on the phone, “I’m not giving you my name; you’re not getting my name!” Bob attempted to sign his name over to his brother Jimmie Cox, and Steve, in his will.
But soon after Bob passed, Bob Ross Inc. filed a lawsuit against Bob’s third wife, Lynda, who he married two months before he died, and Cox. Cox, without Steve Ross’ knowledge, ended up settling the suit in 1997 by signing over all the rights of the Bob Ross name to BRI.
However, Ross’ will stated that Cox and Steve Ross held almost all of the rights to Bob Ross’ name and publicity. This wasn’t discovered until 2018 when Steve Ross filed a lawsuit against BRI; it was null and void by the time Steve Ross found out because of the 1997 settlement agreement.
“My own uncle had signed over those rights to them totally against my father’s wishes,” Steve Ross said in the documentary.
In June 2019, Steve Ross lost his legal battle with BRI due to money issues; an appeal would’ve cost about $90,000. BRI retained all the rights to the Bob Ross name and likeness, and Bob Ross Inc. still operates today in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
“The Kowalskis made millions of dollars from, I would say, exploiting his (Bob Ross’) name and image,” Steve Ross said. “But he brought so much happiness to people, and that’s what’s important.”
Lymphoma comes in several different types, and knowing which one you have is important as you start thinking about treatment.
Lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in cells that are part of the body’s immune system, according to the American Cancer Society. The cancer begins when lymphocytes — a type of white blood cell in the immune system of jawed vertebrates — develop a genetic mutation that causes them to multiply faster than normal.
The cell mutation also causes older cells that would typically die to instead stay alive. The quickly multiplying lymphocytes start to collect and build up in your lymph nodes — the small glands in your neck, armpits and other parts of your body.
When comparing lymphoma to other types of cancers, one of the main differences is that it comes in two categories — Hodgkin Lymphoma and non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
The main difference between the two is that Hodgkin lymphoma has distinctive, giant cells called Reed-Sternberg cells, according to previous SurvivorNet reporting. The presence of these cells can help doctors determine which of the two lymphoma types their patient may have. In other words, if the cells aren’t present, then that points to non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common than its counterpart, and people are more likely to be diagnosed with it after they reach the age of 55. The disease is more likely to spread in a random fashion, and can be found in different groups of lymph nodes in the body.
It remains unclear what type of lymphoma Bob Ross had.
Lymphoma symptoms may be hard to spot, leading many people to be diagnosed when their cancer is already at a late stage.