Bob Ross, the famous painter and television host, was known for his big, bushy head of hair. His natural afro became an iconic part of his image during his long career as the host of The Joy of Painting on PBS. But what was the story behind Bob Ross’ natural hair?
Bob Ross’ Hair History
Bob Ross was born in 1942 in Daytona Beach, Florida. When he was young, he adopted a flattop haircut that was popular among men at the time. However, as Ross got older and joined the Air Force in 1961, he was required to keep his hair very short per military regulations.
After leaving the Air Force in 1981, Ross began growing his hair out into a natural afro. At first it was short and trimmed close to his head. But as time went on, he allowed his curly hair to grow bigger and fuller. By the time he started hosting The Joy of Painting in 1983, Ross’ afro had become a voluminous halo around his head.
Ross reportedly disliked straightening or chemically treating his hair, preferring to let it grow naturally. The only maintenance he did was occasional haircuts to shape his afro into a round ball surrounding his head. He also grew out his hair and full beard to cover up scars on his face from cystic acne he had suffered as a teenager.
Theory: Perm or Natural?
Some viewers theorized that Bob Ross’ bountiful curls couldn’t possibly be his real hair, assuming he must have gotten regular perms to achieve his signature look. However, both Ross and his business partner Annette Kowalski repeatedly insisted that his hair was 100% natural.
“He would never perm his hair!” Kowalski said in one interview. “It’s just not true. He let his hair grow full and natural.” She said the only thing he used was a pick comb to fluff it out.
Photos of a college-aged Ross do seem to show him with naturally wavy and curly hair even then. So while he may have enhanced his volume with some picking and shaping, it does appear that the basic texture of his hair was authentic.
The Care Routine
To maintain his voluminous do, Ross’ haircare routine was relatively simple:
- Shampoo every other day or so
- Use a pick comb to loosen and shape curls
- Air dry or dry with a diffuser – no harsh blowdrying
- Get occasional shaping haircuts
- Let it grow wildly full!
By not over-washing, brushing, blowdrying or chemically treating it, Ross allowed his hair to reach its full natural potential. His curls were able to coil tightly and build volume into a fountaining afro shape.
The Real Ross
Bob Ross’ iconic hairstyle became a key part of his relaxed, artistic persona. But in real life, friends say his personality was not quite as mellow as his televised painter persona.
“He was not a calm, mild-mannered guy,” said his longtime friend Dana Jester. “He was very type A and high strung.” Apparently Ross could even have a bit of a temper at times!
So the huge, bouncy hairdo may have been Ross’ way of visually portraying the laidback attitude he aspired to have. His hair became a symbol of the tranquil joy of painting that he wanted to share with others through his television show.
During his lifetime, Bob Ross’ hair became fodder for good-natured parody. The 1991 comedy film The Adventures of Ford Fairlane featured a fictional artist named “Johnny Crunch” whose gigantic blond afro was an obvious spoof of Ross’ look. Comedian Drew Carey also donned a Bob Ross wig and outfit for some lighthearted impersonations.
Since Ross’ death in 1995, his iconic hairstyle remains a pop culture touchstone. On TV shows and across the internet, the phrase “big happy little trees” (one of Ross’ catchphrases) is often accompanied by images of his giant head of curls.
Halloween costume stores regularly carry Bob Ross wigs so people can dress up as the famous painter. There are toys and foam fingers shaped like his hairdo. The look has become visual shorthand for his creative, upbeat philosophy.
|Year||Bob Ross Hair Mentions|
As this table of web mentions shows, Bob Ross’ hair continues to be referenced more and more over time, retaining cultural relevance decades after his death.
Bob Ross’ buoyant afro was an intrinsic part of his persona during his life. After his death from lymphoma in 1995, his hair remains one of the most memorable aspects of his legacy as an artist, TV host and pop culture icon.
Ross’ natural hair was a bold symbol of self-acceptance and freedom of expression. By refusing to alter his texture and volume to fit expectations, Ross paved the way for greater acceptance of black hair in mainstream media.
So while many fans try to imitate his look with wigs and costumes, the real power of Bob Ross’ hair was that it was uniquely his own. His courage to wear it big, wild and free made an impact on culture that continues today.
Bob Ross’ natural hair was an integral part of his image that contributed to his phenomenal popularity. What began as an Air Force crew cut grew into an awe-inspiring afro that defied expectations. While speculations abounded, Ross insisted he never permed his hair, only picking it out to enhance his naturally curly texture. His carefree approach letting it grow wildly full became an inspiration for self-acceptance. Though parodied at times, Ross’ hair remains an iconic symbol of creative joy.