The ugly truth behind 'Barney & Friends': How creator Sheryl Leach's life was destroyed by a beloved purple dinosaur

The ugly truth behind 'Barney & Friends': How creator Sheryl Leach's life was destroyed by a beloved purple dinosaur
Sheryl Leach's 1998's creation, Barney, unknowingly destroyed her entire family as seen in the new Peacock original documentary (Peacock/I Love You, You Hate Me)

ALLEN, TEXAS: In 1988, Sheryl Leach, a small-town housewife from Texas, created the epitome of children's television that challenged the likes of Sesame Street and Mickey Mouse. Leach is the mastermind behind purple dinosaur Barney who is a purple, lovable, and spongey dinosaur ona the show, 'Barney & Friends'. The character became an obsession for children at the time and it provided Leach with everything she ever thought. Except her life was in complete turmoil behind the scene and a new Peacock documentary which premiered on October 12 is exposing some horrifying details. The family, behind the curtains, went through an ugly divorce, a suicide, and the arrest of Leach's son. 

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The trailer for 'I Love You, You Hate Me', a Peacock Original, reveals how Sheryl Leach couldn't hold her crumbling married life together and chose Barney over her own son. Leach was a school teacher in Texas before she got a job at a local family-run business known as 'Developmental Learning Materials' where she met her future husband Jim Leach. They both welcomed their son Patrick in 1986. She quit her job to take care of her son. Lori Wendt, a former babysitter told the in-depth documentary, "I don't feel like she was a career woman, I don't think that was her goal in life. She was a mom and she loved being a mom." Leach soon realized that she needed a distraction for her excited two-year-old son as there was not enough content for children at the time. She realized that she could fill the gaping hole in the competition. She told an old talk show, "The more I searched, the more I realized that there was not many things on the market that held the attention of a two-year-old."

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After pitching the idea to her father-in-law, the ideation process began. They initially wanted every animal to come to life until Leach decided on dinosaurs as they were her son's favorite prehistoric creature. Andrew Olsen, who runs the Barney History Fans website, said, "Sheryl knew if this was going to work, there could be no sharp teeth, no claws, no spikes, no talons." The end result was exactly what we saw - a lovable, pear-shaped dinosaur with goofy large feet, and a permanently fixed smile, who laughed and danced with the kids and taught them how to help each other. Sheryl circulated the tapes of Barney and in 1990, the demand became tenfold. Two years later, 'Barney & Friends' broke PBS with its popularity.

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Sheryl Leach created Barney as a distraction for her two-year-old son. (Peacock/I Love You, You Hate Me)
Sheryl Leach created Barney as a distraction for her two-year-old son. (Peacock/I Love You, You Hate Me)

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'Barney and Friends' destroyed Sheryl Leach's personal life

As for Patrick, the situation grew tense. As Barney gained more popularity, Leach drove her attention more toward this fictional character whom she considered her own as well. Sheryl explained in old footage featured on the documentary, "To him Barney is like a sibling, and he has kind of a love-hate relationship like all siblings do." Stephen White who worked as the show's head writer until 2005 said, "Barney was like another entity in the family competing for attention, I can imagine that Patrick wouldn't be crazy about that comparison. But can you imagine having a sibling rivalry with a large purple dinosaur?"

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The Barney balloon is carried past Macy's department store during the 76th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade November 28, 2002 in New York City. There were a total of 13 giant character balloons in the parade.
The Barney balloon is carried past Macy's department store during the 76th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade November 28, 2002 in New York City. There were a total of 13 giant character balloons in the parade. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) 

Leach couldn't help but be driven more toward Barney and this affected her marriage. She upgraded to a corporate headquarters in a Dallas skyrise and her husband, Jim, was left to be a stay-at-home dad which led him to be depressed. Eventually, they divorced in 2001, and in unfortunate circumstances, he died by suicide three years later. Patrick was now left with an extremely busy mother, a fake sibling, and no father. Things worsened when he had to undergo multiple surgeries to deal with a benign brain tumor. He himself confessed that he became addicted to marijuana as it would help numb his emotions.

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Sheryl Leach's son Patrick's mugshot as shown in the Peacock original series. (Peacock/I Love You, You Hate Me)
Sheryl Leach's son Patrick's mugshot as shown in the Peacock original series. (Peacock/I Love You, You Hate Me)

However, the end of the line for Patrick was in 2013 when he was arrested at the age of 27 for shooting his Malibu neighbor in the chest over a trespassing issue. He was eventually pulled over by the cops for speeding and was found with a bulletproof vest and a loaded rifle. Sloan Coleman, one of the first hires for the show, said, "It was beyond what anybody could ever think would happen, you know for a child that was raised with basically anything he ever wanted. But there were a lot of hidden dark pasts that followed him."

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Sheryl Leach's husband Jim divorced her in 2001 and committed suicide three years later. (Peacock/I Love You, You Hate Me)
Sheryl Leach's husband Jim divorced her in 2001 and committed suicide three years later. (Peacock/I Love You, You Hate Me)

Patrick was sentenced to 15 years but was released after five. He is now married and a father-of-two. Lori Wendt provided more insight into the troubled family saying, "I think Sheryl would talk all day long about Barney, but I don't think she wants to talk about the relationship with Barney and Patrick." Putting everything on the line, Leach quit the show in 1998 and sold the enterprise to HIT Media Company for $275 million. Barney was officially canceled in 2009.

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