All the Bombshells in Peacock's Barney Documentary I Love You, You Hate Me

Peacock's new docuseries I Love You, You Hate Me reveals the shocking dark side of the beloved children's character Barney. From death threats to bullying, go inside the Barney backlash.

By Brett Malec Oct 12, 2022 10:00 AMTags
Watch: New Barney Docuseries Reveals Dark Side of the '90s Show

For anyone who was a kid in the '90s, the lyrics "I love you, you love me/We're a happy family" probably hold a special place in your heart.

The mantra made famous by an in-costume Barney the Dinosaur on the super-popular children's series Barney & Friends preached love, acceptance and positivity. While the set was a joy-filled space for all who worked on the show, not everyone outside the TV studio was a fan of the eternally optimistic purple dino.

Peacock's new documentary series I Love You, You Hate Me dives deep into the sub culture of Barney haters who formed a community that revolted against his message of kindness.

Originally created by Texas mother Sheryl Leach as a companion for her only child, Patrick Leach, Barney eventually took off in popularity, with the PBS series becoming the network's most-watched kids' show in the '90s. And while there were many who loved the character, the show also had its share of detractors, including critics who literally bashed versions of the dinosaur and parents, fed up with that earworm of a song, who formed a not-so-secret society.

Celebs Who Appeared on Barney & Friends

From "Barney bashing" to actual death threats sent to some cast and crew, Barney became a target for hate. The success of the brand even took a toll on the Leach family and Patrick would eventually have a shocking run-in with the law no one saw coming.

Read on for the biggest bombshells and shocking revelations about the Barney backlash in I Love You, You Hate Me, now streaming on Peacock.

1. Barney Bashing Becomes a Trend

During the early '90s, critics who bonded over their hatred for the eternally optimistic children's dinosaur started a trend called "Barney bashing" in which they'd destroy dolls and toys of the character's likeness, take their rage out on Barney piñatas and even call for Barney's death.

As Travis Fox, a former University of Nebraska student, stated in the documentary, "I was the originator of a Barney bashing event at U of N at Lincoln in 1993...I think the reason we specifically went after Barney was it was the replacement to our Sesame Street. He was encroaching on our childhood. So we decided that we would kind of push back."

According to Lori Wendt, the Leach family's former babysitter, "Sheryl had a hard time understanding why someone could be so hateful and so angry over something that was made with such good intentions, with such pure heart."

2. Gay Rumors Emerge

After conservative activist Rev. Jerry Falwell accused Teletubbies character Tinky Winky of pushing a gay agenda on children in 1999, some started wondering about Barney the big purple dinosaur's sexual orientation.

The topic became material for comedians and Jon Stewart even joked once on The Daily Show, "Barney the singing dinosaur, who also happens to be purple and allegedly likes to hang out with his pals Tyrannosaurus Rex, Tyrannosaurus Lance and Tyrannosaurus Bruce."

3. The "I Hate Barney Secret Society" Is Created

Interviewee Rob Curran claimed in the doc that his daughter became "transfixed" by Barney as a toddler, much to his annoyance. "Barney only appeals to a 3-year-old mentality," he stated. "Barney just drove all the parents crazy. I realized I had to do something." So, he created "The I Hate Barney Secret Society," a newsletter and community for anti-Barney parents like him. "We are a support group for parents who have a Barney addict in the family," he explained. "I just gave a voice to all the fears of all the parents."

In just a few weeks, the newsletter got 7,000 sign-ups.

4. Barney Haters Form a Jihad

Like Curran, Sean Breen found community as the former leader of "The Jihad to Destroy Barney," an online group in which Barney haters created fan fiction with the goal of defeating fictionalized Barney villains. "Our criticism of Barney was it was all about conformity and consensus," Breen explained, "and that's a very ‘90s attitude."

5. Barney Bashing Gets Physical

In 1993 haters took Barney bashing to the next level. Citing a news report, the documentary explained how, "In a Galveston, Texas K-Mart, three boys aged 10, 11 and 12 attacked a man dressed up as Barney. They punched Barney and tried to tear off the dinosaur's head."

David Letterman even poked fun at the backlash during a Late Show episode, adding "Beat the crap out of Barney in a Texas shopping mall" to his segment "Top 10 Things That Will Get You on the Evening News."

6. Death Threats Begin

Former Barney & Friends music director Bob Singleton recounted his first experience with the Barney backlash, "The first time I really heard about Barney bashing was when I was nominated for a Grammy." While doing a radio interview about the achievement, he recalled, "There were people saying, 'His music drives me crazy. I'd just love to get my fingers around that guy's neck.' I was surprised that they felt like they wanted to do me physical harm. And it wasn't just one or two phone calls."

Singleton later unlisted his phone number. "I was in fear," he said. "I got actual death and dismemberment of my family emails. I really don't want to revisit it, that was a terrible time. It hurt so bad."

7. More Cast Members Get Threatened

Bob West, the original voice of Barney from 1988-2000, said he received similar threats. "I started getting emails, from middle school kids especially," he shared. "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."

8. Chicken Controversy & Lawsuits

Ted Giannoulis, the man behind famous San Diego sports mascot The Chicken, began incorporating Barney bashing into his game day comedy acts. "I decided to do a dance-off contest with Barney the Dinosaur," he recalled in the doc. "Suddenly he breaks into this great break dancing that puts me to shame." A "ticked off" Giannoulis would then tackle Barney on the field and rough the dinosaur up as fans cheered him on in the stands.

Sheryl Leach's company sued Giannoulis in 1998 for copyright infringement and asked for payment for using Barney's likeness. Unfortunately for team Barney, the law was on Giannoulis' side as he recounted from the court's dismissal of the case that his use of the character "clearly qualifies as a parody," a form of protected speech.

9. The Beginning of the End

In 1998, Sheryl decided to step away from her role at Barney & Friends. As Sloan Coleman, former SVP of Live Events, said, "Once Sheryl departed, it really was never the same again."

Then in the early 2000s, two more pivotal crew members left. Bob West walked away after more than a decade of voicing Barney ("I was bored," he explained) and David Joyner, the man inside the costume from 1991 to 2001, left to pursue other acting opportunities.

Soon after, Barney was sold to a giant media conglomerate for $275 million, and was later cancelled in 2010.

10. Kid Actors' Troubled Teens

Several child actors who appeared on Barney & Friends shared how they faced hardships after their time on the show. Pia Hamilton, who played Min from 1992 to 1996, and Hope Cervantes, who portrayed Tosha from 1992 to 1996, recalled being bullied in school and getting called names like "Barney lover" and "Barney girl." Cervantes added, "I did turn to drugs and alcohol to cope, to deal."

Ricky Carter, who played Derek from 1990 to 1995, admitted he began hanging around the wrong crowds and doing drugs after Barney. In 2004, he said he found himself in a potentially fatal situation when a supposed friend pulled a gun on him and asked for everything he had. "I jumped out the car and that's when he shot me in the spine," Carter explained. He said he was initially told he would be paralyzed for life, but after extensive therapy he was able to walk again.

11. Patrick Leach's Troubled Childhood

In a 2001 Katie Couric interview, Sheryl admitted her only child, son Patrick Leach, was bullied over his connection to the famed dinosaur.

Patrick would later have a violent run-in with a neighbor that landed him in prison, and the commutation application to shorten his prison sentence shed light into his troubled childhood. "Mr. Leach faced significant challenges as a child and entering early adulthood," Charles Mittelstadt, a Criminal Defense Investigator, quoted the commutation application document. "When he was young, his mother was busy building a successful career and his father struggled with depression. Mr. Leach's parents separated when he was 14 years old and divorced three years later. During that time Mr. Leach developed a brain tumor—benign—that was surgically removed."

12. Jim Leach's Tragic End

When Patrick was just 18, his father Jim Leach died by suicide several years after his and Sheryl's divorce.

13. Patrick Leach Shooting

By 2013, Patrick was 27 and living in Malibu. That January, Patrick shot his neighbor Erick Shanks on Shanks' property after accusing him of trespassing on his. (Shanks survived.) Patrick fled but was soon arrested with multiple firearms in his possession, according to L.A. deputy district attorney Brenda Lee.

Patrick plead no contest to assault with a deadly weapon and in 2015 was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but ultimately only served five years after a commutation.

Criminal Defense Investigator Charles Mittelstadt shared his own insight into Patrick's mental state at the time, "By him own admission he became essentially almost addicted to marijuana to where it was coping mechanism as a way to numb his emotions...It sort of amped up his anxiety and amped up his paranoia."

(E! and Peacock are both part of the NBCUniversal family)

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