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TV URBAN LEGEND: The original host of “Blue’s Clues” left the show because he was going bald.
Fans are frequently obsessed with what happened to actors when they seemingly “disappear” after leaving their favorite television series. That often leads to false stories about former teen stars going into adult films (Eddie Haskell from “Leave It to Beaver”), true stories about former teen stars going into adult films (Judy from “Family Matters”), and far too many “they grew up to become Alice Cooper!” theories to count.
One of the most famous recent examples involves what happened to actor Steve Burns when he left the popular children’s programs “Blue’s Clues” in 2002. The show centered on a young man (originally Burns) with a cute, animated puppy named Blue, who gave Steve three clues to solve each episode as the audience played along. “Blue’s Clues” was major hit for Nickelodeon from its debut in 1996, and received nine Emmy nominations during its run.
Burns left the show in 2002, and was replaced by actor Donovan Patton as Steve’s younger brother Joe; it was explained that Steve had gone “off to college.” Even before his departure, rumors circulated that Burns had died, (either in a car accident or from a heroin overdose), leading him to appear with “Blue’s Clues” co-creator Traci Paige Johnson in 1998 on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” to demonstrate he was indeed alive (Johnson was worried the persistent rumors were especially difficult for little kids to process). When Burns left the series, and seemingly vanished from the public spotlight, that only further fueled the death rumors.
More recently, however, the story has changed, with Burns purportedly leaving “Blue’s Clues” for a peculiar reason: He was going bald! Is this the truth or (forgive me) a bald-faced lie?
The genesis of the legend is a fascinating example of the odd way the Internet works. In 2006, to mark the 10th anniversary — and, as it turns out, the end — of “Blue’s Clues,” Nickelodeon aired a primetime special called “Behind the Clues,” a parody of the VH1’s “Behind the Music,” which chronicled the often-tawdry stories behind the rise and fall of popular music acts.
Taking a similar (if joking) approach to the origins of “Blue’s Clues,” the special revealed the “real” reason Burns left the series at the height of his success. “I knew I wasn’t going to be doing children’s television all my life, mostly because I refused to lose my hair on a kid’s TV show,” Burns said on “Behind the Clues. “And it was happening … fast.” In the context of the show, it was clearly intended as a sendup of the shocking revelations that you might find on an episode of “Behind the Music.” Burns made the joke, and that was seemingly that.
However, in May 2014, Bill Bradley on The Huffington Post unearthed a clip of the then eight-year-old special and cited Burns’ comments as the truth. Within a month, his piece was picked up by tons of other online outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, and the story was now solidified as “the truth.” But is it?
Burns’ balding may have played some role in his decision to leave, but it seems pretty clear that wasn’t anywhere near the primary reason for his departure. Being the host of a children’s show wasn’t the expected career path for Burns, who came to New York City to become an actor and rock musician. He landed a role on “Law and Order” soon after arriving, but was hired for “Blue’s Clues” soon after.
Johnson, the show’s co-creator, spoke about Burns to Spin Magazine in 2004, noting, “He didn’t want to be a children’s host. Of the 100 people we auditioned, he was, by far, the realest. He loved kids, but he didn’t want to make a career out of it.”
Burns left to pursue a career as a musician. As he told MTV News in 2002:
I took this about as far as I could, I guess. It was a really difficult decision, too, because on one hand, if I wanted to, I could do this for a really long time. The show is extraordinarily popular in several countries. I could be like Fred Rogers (’Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’), which I consider a very noble profession. But I thought, ’Well, is this really what I came to New York to do? Why not quit right when I’m at my peak.’ I just don’t think it’s true that people can’t do something else after they’ve done something that seems so permanent. I hope I’ll be remembered for that show for the rest of my life. That will always be a part of my identity, and I’m totally cool with that.
With that in mind, the bald thing is true only in that Burns didn’t want to host “Blue’s Clues” forever, remaining with the show for so long that he’d go bald on TV. However, that’s merely a side effect of the main reason, which is that he didn’t want to keep hosting the show, period. Baldness concerns weren’t the driving force (and it wasn’t as if he went totally bald right away; he appeared in 2003 on “Today,” and still had a good amount of hair, although he eventually ended up shaving his head).
So I’m going with the legend as…
Thanks to my pal Bill Walko for suggesting I feature this one (well, he asked that I look into a bunch of these “real reasons people left TV shows” lists that were going around recently, but still).
Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of television.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.