Long before any of us had heard the words YouTube, there was Bob Ross, the soft-spoken, much-Afroed man who tried to teach a generation of Americans how to paint -- or, as he might put it, "make love to the canvas."
Ross didn't exactly have a huge platform. He aired on local PBS affiliates for 11 years starting in 1983. But thanks to his unusual appearance, soothingly square manner and wet-on-wet technique that turned a blank page into a landscape painting in less than 30 minutes, he was not only entrancing but something of a phenomenon.
You'd watch Ross quietly at home, half-admiringly and half-ironically, thinking you were one of the few. Meanwhile, millions of people around the country were doing the same. Long before there was viral video, Ross was going viral.
On Monday, Google decided to give Ross a fitting 21st century honor. On what would have been the painter's 70th birthday (he died in 1995 at the age of 52), the company dedicated its so-called Google Doodle to Ross. The site's home page showed Ross in front of an easel in a painterly pose that he himself might have appreciated; the link went to an assortment of Ross-a-nalia.