Docuseries exposes the tragic family breakdown of Barney creator following years of brutal harassment



The journey from a lovable purple dinosaur singing saccharin songs for toddlers to a controversy-laden, tantra-teaching, drug-abusing, hate-inspiring sycophant is too bizarre to be fiction, as Peacock’s new docuseries detailing the downward spiral of the once beloved Barney illustrates.

“I Love You, You Hate Me” chronicles the phenomenon of the character created by Texas housewife Sheryl Leach to entertain her two-year-old son Patrick at a time when Mickey Mouse and Sesame Street were the only options for the under 5 set.

While the character wormed his way into the psyche of those not old enough to attend school, becoming a favored and much-loved friend during his long TV run from 1992-2012, he engendered the opposite feelings in parents and adults who created social media groups to bash the purple T.rex.

“Barney Bashing” turned into a national pastime and those who worked on the show found themselves the victims of vitriol and threats.

“They were violent and explicit, death and dismemberment of my family,” said Bob West, the original voice of Barney. “They were going to come and find me, and they were going to kill me.”

“The Jihad to Destroy Barney,” an online forum “dedicated to defamation, humiliation, eradication, killing, and removal of Barney the Purple Dinosaur… from every human’s life,” was but one of the many groups created by parents to voice their extreme hatred for the goofy, good-natured dinosaur their children couldn’t get enough of.

These forums generated conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory, claiming the dino’s human occupant kept cocaine in his tail to snort between takes, while another said the actor was a savage sexual predator who hung himself in his suit. Parents relished the debauchery they imagined but many took it to extremes.

“Hating on Barney became a national sport and nobody was immune to its wrath,” the Daily Mail reported. Charles Barkley took down Barney on “Saturday Night Live,” videos dominated social media of Barney effigies being burned or assaulted with weapons, and an entire event in 1993 at the University of Nebraska was dedicated to destroying the purple dinosaur who stood for inclusion, understanding, and kindness.

“‘We did a Barney piñata, we did the stuffed animal beatings,” said Travis Fox, who organized the Nebraska protest. “This one doesn’t have any eyes left, I actually watched someone eat the eyes right off of this doll.”

(Image: screenshot)

Death threats rolled in for cast members who, at one point, included Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato.

“There was one email that asked: ‘are you the Barney that I stabbed and shot outside New Orleans?’ They went on to say that they were going to come find me and kill me,” West said.

No one involved with the show was safe from the hate.

“I was surprised that they felt like they wanted to do me physical harm, and that wasn’t just one or two phone calls,” Bob Singleton, who was nominated for a Grammy as music director on Barney told the series. “I was in fear. I got actual death and dismemberment of my family emails. I really don’t want to revisit that, that was a terrible time. It hurt so bad.”

Even the child stars became targets.

“I was bullied for being on the show so I can only imagine what Patrick went through,” said Hope Cervantes who played Tosha from 1992 to 1996. A victim of abuse before joining “Barney and Friends,” Cervantes was called “Barney lover” by classmates who claimed she was molested by the purple dinosaur. Cervantes reportedly turned to drugs and alcohol to silence the onslaught.

“In 1988, Sheryl Leach created a monster,” reads the opening scene of the docuseries which details the fallout from the fame and fortune that tormented staff and destroyed the Leach family.

“Barney premiered on PBS in 1992 as ‘Barney & Friends’ and became a overnight children’s sensation,” the Daily Mail reported. “What followed next was all manner of merchandize from Barney pajamas, bedding, backpacks, toys, baby gear, school supplies, hair accessories, stuffed animals, puzzles and a Hasbro board game.”

“Can you imagine what the odds are, that not from New York, not from L.A., but from a little town called Allen, Texas, a group of people came up with an idea that is now the number one most watched children’s program?” Sheryl asked during an interview in 1993 at the National Press Club.

As the Barney phenomena grew, cracks began to form in the Leach family. Pulled away from the family to focus on her enterprise, Sheryl was now the main breadwinner, leaving Jim a depressed stay-at-home-dad and Patrick feeling jealous of his cartoon “brother.”

“Barney was like another entity in the family competing for attention, I can imagine that Patrick wouldn’t be crazy about that comparison,” said Stephen White, the show’s head writer until 2005. “But can you imagine having a sibling rivalry with a large purple dinosaur?”

The couple divorced in 2001 and Jim committed suicide three years later.

Patrick, who suffered a brain tumor as a child, used marijuana to cope and his troubles escalated throughout his adolescence, culminating in a 15-year prison sentence.

“The toll of Patrick’s troubled childhood peaked in 2013 when he was arrested at age 27 for shooting his Malibu neighbor in the chest over a trespassing dispute,” the Daily Mail reported. “When cops eventually pulled him over speeding down Pacific Coast Highway, he was found wearing a bullet proof vest while carrying a loaded handgun and rifle.”

Sheryl left the show in 1998 and sold the enterprise to HIT Media Company for $275 million. Rebranded with new characters, many felt the show wasn’t the same without Sheryl at the helm and it was canceled in 2009.

The “most shocking revelation” from the documentary, according to the Daily Mail, is about David Joyner, “who donned the 60-pound Barney bodysuit for ten years until 2001.” Today,  the 59-year-old  “is currently working as a Tantric sex guru in Los Angeles.”

Las Vegas News Magazine

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