'90s TV Icon "Left Public Life" After Death Rumors Went Viral
Steve Burns starred on the beloved Nickelodeon show Blue's Clues from 1996 to 2001.
In 2001, after hosting the children's TV series Blue's Clues for five years, Steve Burns threw in the towel—or the striped green shirt, rather. On the show, it was explained that "Steve" was heading to college and would be replaced by his brother "Joe," played by Donovan Patton. In real life, Burns simply did not want to be on the series anymore.
But the TV star didn't drop out of pop culture entirely just because he was no longer on the Nickelodeon series. Instead, rumors regularly began to surface and spread that Burns had died. These rumors, which ranged in detail, affected Burns deeply, to the point that he decided to leave public life behind.
Today, the Nickelodeon alum is working in entertainment and back in the world of Blue's Clues once again. Read on to learn about his experience with those death hoaxes and his life today.
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Burns was clinically depressed while making the show.
In a new interview with Variety, Burns said that he didn't realize it at the time, but he was depressed during his stint on Blue's Clues.
"I didn't know it yet, but I was the happiest depressed person in North America," the 49-year-old actor said. "I was struggling with severe clinical depression the whole time I was on that show. It was my job to be utterly and completely full of joy and wonder at all times, and that became impossible. I was always able to dig and find something that felt authentic to me that was good enough to be on the show, but after years and years of going to the well without replenishing it, there was a cost."
He said he went through "a long period of healing" after leaving the series.
Death rumors took a toll on him.
In the years after Burns left Blue's Clues, rumors circulated that he died in a car crash or from a drug overdose. Despite him making appearances to prove that he was still alive, the rumors persisted, which had an impact on him.
"I was under the working assumption that most of y'all thought I was dead," he told Variety. "That rumor was so persistent and so indelible that I assumed it was a cultural preference. I eventually just took the hint. I kept my head down and left public life."
Today, Burns' Instagram handle and bio even reference the hoaxes. His handle is @steveburnsalive and the bio simply reads, "Alive."
He understands why the gossip was appealing to people.
Back in 2007, Burns spoke to MTV about the rumors that he was dead.
"It's starting to concern me," he said. "I'm starting to think that maybe there's something that people know that I don't know … like that I'm dead! But I feel fantastic. I think I'm going to just make a Web site and actually affirm the rumor, and see if that helps. That way, I can at least die of something better than a drug overdose. I want to die in a whaling accident in Nova Scotia or something more interesting."
He added that he thinks he understands why the rumors persist, even though he feels defensive of the show.
"I think the dissonance of that is really satisfying, you know, the idea that a children's television show host would be involved in such nefarious activities," Burns said. "It's overwhelmingly satisfying if you're 14. But that actually is the only thing that upsets me about the rumor. I just hate the idea of Blue's Clues being associated with anything like that. We just all worked way too hard on it. But what are you going to do?"
He's returned to Blue's Clues.
Burns revisits his role as Steve in the new Blue's Clues movie, Blue's Big City Adventure. He's also written, directed, and appeared in episodes of the current Blue's Clues series, Blue's Clues & You!, which is hosted by Josh Dela Cruz. In September 2021, Burns made headlines when he shared a message with Blue's Clues fans who had grown up watching the original show in honor of the show's 25th anniversary.
"I've never enjoyed being Steve more than I do now," he told Variety of the new movie. "I get to wear a trench coat. It's like Grover-meets-Columbo—a clown character. That's really freeing somehow."
Outside of being Steve, Burns is a musician and voiceover actor. He also recently stepped back into live-action acting with a role on Young Sheldon for which he also wrote the opening theme song.