I was 11 years old when I heard the rumor that Steve Burns, the original host of “Blue’s Clues,” died of a drug overdose.
Or was it a car crash? Whatever it was, I remember believing it for a long time.
But of course, this was back in 2002, when fact checks weren’t tweeted out in real-time. Rumors like these passed from person to person, mutating as they went. Most of my peers who cared enough about “Blue’s Clues” all seemed to know about Steve’s unfortunate demise. It was almost like an urban legend, like the one about the half-man half-snake that lives underneath a trap door in the department store of Robinsons Galleria.
But Steve is very much alive, and the rumor has been debunked many, many times for the past two decades. And the video posted yesterday by Nick Jr. in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of “Blue’s Clues” proves just as much.
I wasn’t a fan of “Blue’s Clues.” To be frank, I even detested it at times. Once I hit puberty, right around the time I was waiting for normal body parts to arrive (Mia Thermopolis, “The Princess Diaries,” 2001), I felt above baby shows like the one hosted by Steve. Too old for the Thinking Chair, MAAAAIL!!!, and Blue Skidoo, We Can Too.
Unfortunately, my shows were second priority to my little sister Yanna’s child-friendly programming. Which is to say we fought over “Blue’s Clues” a lot, among other things. My little sister and I shared so many things: a room, toys, books, and even birthday parties (I was born May 18, while her birthday falls on May 20). So I wasn’t about to give up precious TV time for another half hour of Steve chasing his dog around his house.
I obviously lost this one. Everything I know about French couple Mr. Salt, Mrs. Pepper, then only child Paprika (is she Spanish?), and Magenta I know against my will.
I’m 30 now and Yanna is 25, but there are days I feel a lot older when I think about how this pandemic has aged me. Speaking of aging, I found out just today that the day Steve left for “college” on the show, he was actually way beyond college age. The real Steve was 29 years old and he allegedly left the show because he was balding.
When my fiancé showed me the video of Steve the day it came out, I felt my heart tighten a little. Steve’s voice is a lot lower and he’s obviously very bald, but it was Steve alright. Down to the green striped shirt and the way he pauses enigmatically before following up with “great,” as if he could hear me responding through the screen, a screen I don’t have to share with Yanna anymore. Here he is, talking to me like the adult I think I am, joking about the way we used to freak out about the mail.
My sister and I don’t fight as much, not really. We fight over who gets to use the car or if one of us forgot to pay for the association dues for the month. We no longer fight for TV because we’ve since cut our cable subscription for a family Netflix account. We also no longer share a room, but that only happened when I started going to college. But seeing Steve brought me back to that little house on a hill, the purple mailbox, Shovel and Pail peeking out from the side of the house. Back to a time when our family was still whole, before COVID-19, before my parents left for the United States to pay for our college tuition. Back to a time when our fights were just simply, plainly, child's play.
I shared the video with Yanna, accompanied by a little baby photo of the two of us that our eldest sister had serendipitously dug up just the other day. In it, I’m nine years old, my sister is four. She has her little arm around me while I hold up Blue, Mr. Salt, Mrs. Pepper, and Paprika.
“You’re really my best friend,” she jokes.
“I guess so,” I said.
“I’m super glad we’re still friends,” says Steve from my screen, and I feel a tear welling up.