“Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed” Documentary Review

Netflix doc discusses famous artist and his relationships with son, business partners

Olivia Kumar, Sandscript Author

Bob Ross, the television painter known for his dandelion-fuzz hair and happy approach to painting a landscape in 30 minutes or less, is still loved 26 years after his passing for the calming way he would dab his “happy little” trees and clouds onto his canvases. A new Netflix documentary about the artist – which featured an eerie title and even creepier trailer – caused alarm among his fans that it would end up exposing some horrific behavior, forever ruining the fond memories so many had of the painter. 

 Though Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed does reveal some normal, human flaws of the painting star, Ross himself emerges almost completely intact as a gentle, kindhearted soul; much to his fans’ relief. The troubling parts, instead, happened after he was gone. 

The documentary largely shows posthumous disputes between Ross’s son, Steve Ross along with friends, and business partners, Annette and Walter Kowalski. Since his death, there have been instances of legal wrangling (arguments relating to legal reasons), accusations of bad behavior and disrespect, and anger and resentment between the surviving parties. 

Steve says in the film, “It looked to me like they were trying to get Bob to sign his name over to them,” and claims this led to an argument. “You could hear him screaming, ‘I’m not giving you my name’ … They literally wanted to steal Dad’s name, and did.” 

Later on in the film, Steve states that the Kowalski’s did not attend his father’s funeral, they instead exploited his father’s cultural afterlife. He lost a lawsuit against Bob Ross Inc. in 2019, which left him unable to financially benefit from his father’s name or image. The documentary suggests that while the Kowalski’s clearly have the law on their side, the morality is more ambiguous. All of the arguing between Ross’s family and the Kowalski’s gave the film a somber feeling but every so often, between the arguing and lawsuits there was a glimpse of Bob and his talents that lifted the somber feeling. 

Ross’s death affected many and as he was greatly loved worldwide, which was captured by the doc through interviews of his friends and family. Netflix’s documentary Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed summarized Ross’s life and explained the tension between Ross’s son Steve and his business partners without ruining Bob’s reputation as the gentle and kind man that hosted “The Joy of Painting” on PBS.