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Barney Unmasked

Claim:   Children's TV host Barney the purple dinosaur was caught with cocaine hidden in his tail and cussed out a child.

FALSE

Examples:

[Collected via e-mail, January 2009]

The kids that I baby-sit were sitting around the table today saying that Barney, the purple dinosaur from Barney and Friends was busted with cocaine in his tail.
 

[Collected on the Internet, December 2008]

My children report someone found drugs in Barney the Dinosaur's tail. He was trying to give them to children on the show.
 

[Collected on the Internet, February 2006]

Several people I know were saying that the actor who played Barney on the children's TV show "Barney and Friends" was fired because he swore at a young boy who stepped on his tail.
 

Origins:   Barney, the purple dinosaur from television's Barney & Friends, has been on the air since 1992, hosting a show which uses song and dance to Barney teach preschool tots in an environment of warmth and caring. Barney's is a loveable persona, and the children he interacts with as part of the show happily sing and dance along with him, looking upon him as a much-admired friend.

Two common rumors about Barney (police uncovered a cache of illegal drugs secreted in the rotund dinosaur's tail, or the endlessly loving and patient children's host roundly cussed out a hapless tyke) strike at the heart of Barney's appeal to the smaller set. It's not the funny costume or the songs that make the show a success; it's the friendliness and constant optimism of the show's purple host. The rumors' presentation of Barney as a nefarious character who deals drugs or secretly hates children runs contrary to his steadfast image of wholesomeness and trustworthiness.

Baseless rumors of similar denigrating nature have plagued other children's hosts cherished for their friendliness and sincerity. Back fence gossip asserted the genial Mr. Rogers was a convicted child molester or had served in the armed forces as a sniper and thus had dispatched many to their graves. The radio host Uncle Don was believed to have uttered "There; that ought to hold the little bastards" into a live mike at the conclusion of one of his shows when he thought the station was no longer broadcasting. And "Steve" of TV's Blue's Clues was said to have died of a heroin overdose, a clear indication that, contrary to his squeaky-clean on-camera image, he'd been deeply into illegal drugs.

In the case of the rumors about Barney, the source for the rumor about drugs having been found in his tail can likely be laid at the feet of some of his small fans who misunderstood the meaning of various news articles they might have heard about. Like so many other successful television shows, Barney & Friends has spawned various lines of show-related merchandise, including various Barney toys such as plush dolls in the likeness of the purple dinosaur himself. While most of such playthings have doubtless lived out their guiltless existences being hugged and squeezed by sundry tots, a few stuffed Barneys have been used as drug caches:
  • In 1998 at a post office in Texas, a drug-sniffing dog detected two pounds of cocaine hidden inside a talking Barney doll which was being shipped to Waltham, Minnesota. Officers of the law followed the package to its destination, where they arrested three men on federal charges of conspiracy to possess, and intent to distribute, cocaine.
  • In 2001 in Charleston, West Virginia, four members of the same family pled guilty to federal charges of conspiring to sell cocaine and two prescription painkillers that police had discovered stashed in a Barney doll.
  • In 2004 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, more than $2,000 was found inside a plush stuffed Barney doll at an apartment inhabited by a family with five children. The kids' grandmother and their mother's boyfriend were charged with possession and intent to distribute cocaine, and the youngsters were taken into the care of the state's Department of Children, Youth and Families. 13 grams of cocaine were discovered inside the stuffed animal, more than 30 grams of cocaine in a flower pot, and 5 grams of marijuana in a dresser drawer.
Children, especially small ones, don't easily grasp small differences — to them, a news story about illicit drugs having been discovered inside a Barney doll during a police raid is likely to be understood as drugs having been found inside Barney the television star himself. Given that to a small child,
everything they see of Barney happens to him on camera, the story would quickly flesh out to the dinosaur's having been arrested while the cameras were rolling, the police appearing on set to pull the drugs from his tail and haul him off in dino-cuffs.

As for the "Barney cusses on live TV" rumor, it circulates in two forms: That a pain-riddled Barney who had tripped and stubbed his toe let loose with a few profanities, or that an enraged Barney cussed out a child who had unwittingly stepped on his tail during a shoot. The specific origin of this rumor is unknown, but James Lileks of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote in 2006 that "the existence of the Barney Swear Tape is a first-grade urban legend."

Barney & Friends is not broadcast live: A tape of the show is processed and edited before it airs on television. Had the actor inside the Barney suit actually cut loose with a stream of expletives during a taping of the show, his outburst would never have reached his adoring viewing audience at home. In fact, Barney's voice is provided by a different actor than the one who performs inside the (non-miked) purple dinosaur suit, so anything the latter said on stage wouldn't have been captured at all.

Other rumors about the purple dinosaur include:
  • The man in the Barney suit is a child molester. (The same has been whispered about Mr. Rogers - in neither case is it true.) In an expansion of that rumor, the convicted pervert is playing the part of the purple dinosaur as part of his sentence.
  • Barney murdered a child and was jailed for his crime.
  • An actor who portrayed the Barney character committed suicide. Or four such actors did. In an expansion of the suicide rumor, the Barney-portrayer who offs himself does so while wearing the costume, resulting in the discovery of a hanging Barney.
Barbara "barney rubbled" Mikkelson

Last updated:   11 May 2009

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Sources:

    Edel, Raymond.   "Television News & Notes."
    The [Bergen County] Record.   22 May 1998   (p. Y6).

    Lileks, James.   "I Love You, You Love Me, We're a %$*&@% Family."
    [Minneapoli] Star Tribune.   2 December 2006   (p. E2).

    Associated Press.   "Family Pleads Guilty in Drug Case."
    22 May 2001.

    The Providence Journal.   "Cocaine Found in Toy, Children Taken by State."
    18 June 2004   (p. C1).