Dissecting the nature of a highly effective post-mortem estate.

Sean Kernan
Editorial rights purchased via Adobe Stock Photos

How do you make money off a dead person? You can’t sell them at a restaurant. There must be a way, without going full Weekend at Bernie’s, pretending he’s alive to stay and party at his mansion.

Author via Google

Bob Ross died 25 years ago after a battle with lymphoma, but his estate still booms and it doesn’t involve selling his paintings. In fact, you won’t find many Bob Ross originals for sale, even from private buyers. If you do, good luck:

Author via ebay

Ross is credited as the unintentional founder of ASMR, those videos of people whispering into the camera, tapping various objects to help you relax. Ross spent 20-years in the Army, retiring as a staff sergeant. He swore to never shout again after leaving. He made good on that promise — and then some.

As a kid, I was transfixed by his Saturday morning show, his soft-spoken voice as he made paintings in effortless fashion. In my early 20s, these videos became a low-octane hangover show. And candidly, while researching this article, I accidentally fell asleep while rewatching one of his videos. I wasn’t mad at him.

Ross remains a cultural icon. His kind, inviting demeanor, shepherding us into an artistic world marked both by intense difficulty and harsh judgment. And therein lies the fulcrum by which the Ross estate makes millions each year.

Ross painted tens of thousands of paintings. So it isn’t a scarcity issue like there is with DaVinci, who finished less than 20 in his lifetime. Ross painted three for each episode: One before, during, and after. During each episode, you never got a preview of the finished painting — you had to wait it out. And he made it happen in 26 minutes.

Most of his paintings are in storage, completely unorganized, held by Bob Ross Inc here in the Tampa Bay area. They have no intent to sell them.

So how does his estate make money?

First, there’s a Bob Ross certification program, where art teachers are guided on how to host actual short-form teaching lessons. This has ties to how Ross was discovered. At the time of the show’s ideation, a producer found him performing in a mall, giving quick lessons to locals.

His show, “The Joy of Painting” still airs on TV — and probably will for the rest of our lives.

There are Bob Ross paint and sip parties. My girlfriend convinced me to do one recently and it went about as well as expected. They also have an extensive licensing brand, with major brands like Target and Wal-Mart selling shirts and coffee mugs with his quotes on them:

Author via ebay

Amazon is filled to the brim with painting products. As a fun trick — you can estimate the number of sales a product has by counting the reviews. It’s roughly 1–2 reviews per 100 Amazon sales.

Author via Amazon

Quick tip: don’t buy reviews or any review service for your product. Amazon has a zero-tolerance policy and will eventually catch on, delete them, and potentially wipe out your account. Focus on the product — not the reviews.

I could fill paragraphs with the number of products being sold. The rise of ASMR videos has lifted his brand to new heights. The idea of people whispering with an intent to calm you down and earn money often turns people off. Bob Ross’s authentic kindness brings groves to his YouTube videos — his channel boasting more than 4.7 million subscribers.

His Twitter features daily quotes:

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — but nothing is broken, so don’t worry about trying to fix anything.”

You can also call 1–800-Bob-Ross just talk about Bob Ross if that’s your fancy. It’s hard to overstate just how popular Ross has become. One woman on Twitter turned her lips into a Bob Ross painting. Note the fingernail with the palette:

Author via Twitter

I don’t fault the Ross estate all for what they are doing. I think it’s brilliant — and it adds more positivity into the world. The business world is particularly cutting and mean.

It’s heartwarming to see these new generations of people falling in love with what he represents: kindness and openness to people of all ability levels. He never had any scandals or wrongdoings. He was a genuinely pure human being and demonstrates that if you are a kind enough person, you’ll be remembered as such.

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