'90s Children's TV Star Says He Received "Explicit and Violent" Threats
The voice of Barney says he was targeted by middle schoolers, in particular.
It might seem like an unlikely subject for a dramatic two-part documentary, but there was more going on behind the scenes at Barney & Friends than you might realize. The new Peacock documentary I Love You, You Hate Me—a play on Barney's most famous song—focuses on the children's TV character of the 1990s, the purple dinosaur who preached positivity and friendship.
But, while Barney had plenty of little kid fans, there were a lot of Barney haters out there, too. Proof of that ranged from mean but harmless jokes about the character to actual threats to those who worked on the show. Read on to find out more, including what the voice of Barney said he dealt with at the time.
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As the show became popular, "Barney bashing" took off.
After being created by Sheryl Leach, who was inspired to make a show for her son, Barney & Friends premiered on PBS in 1992. The show became a hit, but some parents and older children found it annoying or at least ripe for ridicule. So, the idea of "Barney bashing" came to be, as I Love You, You Hate Me documents.
In some cases, Barney bashing meant that Barney dolls were destroyed. There was also "The I Hate Barney Secret Society" newsletter for parents. On Saturday Night Live, there was a sketch in which host Charles Barkley played an aggressive game of one-on-one basketball against Barney. But, some of the backlash against Barney showed up in much more serious ways.
The voice of Barney received death threats.
In I Love You, You Hate Me, Bob West, the original voice of Barney, says that he received emails with death threats from people who hated the show.
"I started getting emails, from middle school kids especially," he said in the documentary (via E! News). "And some of them were very nice and some of them were absolutely hateful. They were very explicit and very violent. There was one email that asked, 'Are you the Barney that I stabbed and shot outside of New Orleans?' Then they went on to say they were going to come and find me and they were going to kill me."
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The music director also received hate.
Bob Singleton, who was the music director for Barney & Friends, got his share of personal threats too. He says in the documentary, that when he did a radio interview after being nominated for a Grammy for his work on Barney, people called in to express their disapproval.
"There were people saying, 'His music drives me crazy. I'd just love to get my fingers around that guy's neck,'" he explained. "I was surprised that they felt like they wanted to do me physical harm. And it wasn't just one or two phone calls."
Like West, Singleton also received threatening emails. "I got actual 'death and dismemberment of my family' emails," he recalled. "I really don't want to revisit it, that was a terrible time. It hurt so bad."
West responded to his hate mail.
In an interview with E! News, West opened up further about the threats he received and Barney bashing as a whole. He explained that he understands where it was coming from.
"I did get death threats from kids in middle school, but I know what that was: Kids growing up and trying to throw off childhood. Generally, there was a lot more love than there was hate," he said. "I wrote back and most of them were like, 'I'm so sorry, I didn't know there was a real human being on the other end.' Some of the kids were obviously hurting or had something going on in their lives. I tried my best to get ahold of their teachers or their computer lab person and see if we could get them some help."
He also communicated with some "Barney bashers."
At the time, there was an online group called "The Jihad to Destroy Barney," which created fan fiction in which Barney was a villain. West said that he got in touch with the group and had respect for its members.
"It was just this wonderfully developed, really complex little society that they had," he said. "They all had roles and they had ranks and it was this war against Barney. It was a big joke … I actually went into the group a couple of times to say hello and they were just so nice to me. It was all just for fun."
West told E! News that he gets why people have cynical reactions to things—including a children's character like Barney—but cautioned that it's important to not let that cynicism spiral out of control. "There's a real need for understanding and not amplifying being skeptical about something to the point where it becomes hate or violent," West said.