Based on the antics of a giant all-singing, all-dancing, purple T. rex, Barney and Friends is one of America’s all-time most popular educational kids shows. But chances are you’re unfamiliar with the man who originally played the loveable anthropomorphic star. Here’s a look at the entertainer behind the 70-pound costume.
The brainchild of ex-teacher Sheryl Leach, Barney and Friends first began as a home video series before moving to PBS in 1992. Despite becoming an immediate hit, PBS very nearly canceled the show at the end of its first 30-episode run. But an outcry from local stations led PBS to reconsider, and the show remained on air until 2009.
Each Barney and Friends episode adhered to a rigid structure. The titular dinosaur would always transform from a stuffed toy into the real thing, going on to educate a group of young schoolkids about a particular subject, often through song. After telling everyone, “I love you,” Barney then reverted to his original form while the children talked about their learnings.
Barney was also regularly joined by various dinosaur co-stars. There was Baby Bop, a green three-year-old Triceratops famous for her security blanket; her older brother B.J., a yellow Protoceratops who loved pickles; and Riff, a six-year-old orange hadrosaur with a passion for music and inventing things. Various puppets also guested on the show, including Scooter McNutty and Booker T. Bookworm.
Barney and Friends also welcomed more than 100 children to its school setting, several of whom went on to forge enduring showbiz careers. Pop stars Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez are its two most famous cast members. But the show also gave several actresses their start, including Danielle Vega, Debby Ryan and Madison Pettis.
But, of course, the most important cast member was the man who played Barney the Dinosaur himself. For the first nine years of the show, that role went to David Joyner. The Illinois actor first took over from David Voss during Barney’s early home video phase and continued to wear the costume when the dinosaur made the move to PBS.
However, Joyner had to fight for the part. He went through a tough process, involving five auditions, and was initially pipped to the role by a woman. But when producers realized she couldn’t deal with the young cast members, they asked Joyner to be her replacement. Joyner portrayed the dinosaur in the show and his big-screen outing, Barney’s Great Adventure.
Speaking to Business Insider, Joyner credited landing the role to a dream in which he had had to give a passed-out Barney mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. On his way to the audition, Joyner spotted an advert tagline that read, “Breathe life into your vacation.” Joyner saw it as a sign that he had to breathe life into the dinosaur character.
Born in Decatur, Illinois in 1963, Joyner wasn’t exactly a seasoned performer when he landed the gig. After graduating from Indianapolis’ ITT Technical Institute, he spent six years working as a software analyst. However, he did gain experience entertaining kids during his bizarre sideline as a live mannequin at a nearby shopping mall.
But Joyner had always held ambitions of being a small screen star. Speaking to Business Insider the actor revealed, “When I was a kid, I wanted to be on television so bad. I would stand in front of the television and basically lip sync.”
However, life on a TV set wasn’t exactly as glamorous as Joyner perhaps once expected. In the same interview he revealed he often had to endure sweltering temperatures of 120 degrees while wearing the 70-pound Barney suit. “It’s a T-rex, so you’re basically up to your elbows in being able to move, and then also, Barney’s feet were huge.”
And Joyner had to endure plenty more problems with the costume. He also revealed that Barney’s head didn’t swivel or separate from the rest of the body and that his vision was always restricted. In fact, when the dinosaur closed his mouth Joyner couldn’t see a thing.
And going to the bathroom wasn’t easy either. Joyner recalled one particular incident at a Mardi Gras parade during a 2017 Reddit AMA. “The costume wrangler pushed a Gatorade bottle up the crouch opening of the costume and I had to aim, use, put on the lid, hand it back to her, all while waving and dancing on the float.”
But despite all the drawbacks of playing a giant purple dinosaur, Joyner told Business Insider he had nothing but affection for his time on the show. “Barney was beautiful. Barney was very, very good to me. I loved being Barney. I loved everything about being Barney. But that chapter is gone.”
Playing Barney also had some benefits when it came to the opposite sex. Joyner told BuzzFeed in 2017 that while living the single life he had often found that women would be hugely impressed when he had told them his profession. However, he claims that he never actually used the information as a pick-up line.
Joyner also added that even 16 years after saying goodbye to Barney he was still approached by fans. “I still get compliments on Facebook and different places. I’m very excited for the fact that it has had a huge impact on a lot of people, not just in America but all over the world.”
But Joyner acknowledges not everyone was a fan of his work, telling BuzzFeed, “When the kids got to that 6 to 7-year-old age range, and were all, ‘Oh, I hate Barney, I can’t stand Barney,’ it never really affected me. Because I knew what we were doing. And the message that we were spreading was just so powerful.”
Joyner has racked up dozens of film and TV credits since leaving Barney behind. He’s enjoyed recurring roles on The Young and the Restless, ER and According to Him and Her. He’s also guested on 24, House, Shameless, Veep, Southland, Murder in the First and Hart of Dixie.
Joyner has pursued other ventures outside the showbiz world too. Not only is he a reiki practitioner and spiritual energy healer, but he also performs tantra massage. Joyner first started taking an interest in tantra in his early twenties and has studied the practice in several different countries.
But Joyner hasn’t entirely given up playing children’s characters. He’s currently the man behind Hip Hop Harry, a breakdancing rapping teddy bear responsible for an after-school program known as Hip Hop Central. Joyner admits that even in his mid-fifties he’s proud to still be putting on giant animal costumes for a living.