If you were a kid—like, a really young kid—in the ’90s, you probably fell in love with a purple dinosaur named Barney.
The children’s show by the same name practically defines the 1990s, at least for the cohort who were born that decade. On any day you could find the 1-8 set singing along with the dinosaur on their television screen. We hate to break it to you, but there was an actor inside that Barney suit the whole time.
Everyone, meet David Joyner, the 53-year-old man who was born to spread a message of love through the unlikely medium of a plush dinosaur.
Joyner’s path to the gig was winding, but, if you ask him, his role as Barney was destined all along.
Joyner had a whole career before he fell into acting.
He has a degree in electronics, and he spent six years analyzing software for Texas Instruments. He would perform as a hobby, thrilling kids as a live mannequin in the mall.
Then, he heard about this goofy children’s show called Barney & Friends. Joyner felt called to the job. The night before he went to the audition, Joyner had a strange dream, which he later related to Business Insider.
“In this dream, Barney passes out,” Joyner said. “And I have to give Barney mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. So on the way to the audition, I’m sitting at a stoplight, and something says “Look up.” So I look up, and there’s this billboard. It says ‘Breathe life into your vacation — Southwest Airlines.’
“And then it hits me. I had to breathe life into Barney in my dream. If I go into this audition and breathe life into this character, I’m going on vacation. And that’s exactly what I did.”
Joyner got the job.
While he created the dances and the movements that we’ll always remember fondly, Joyner can’t take credit for Barney’s voice. That was another actor, this one named Bob West. It isn’t easy to coordinate movement and speech for a character like this, but West and Joyner did what Barney would have encouraged them to do: They worked together.
“We would do what we call ‘
However, not everything was sunshine and rainbows for the guy inside the Barney suit. It could get hot in there—sometimes up to 120 degrees. The outfit was quite heavy, too. It weighs in at 70 pounds, Joyner said.
Despite the challenges, Joyner is grateful for his adventure with the dinosaur.
In fact, he sees a deeper meaning in his involvement with a TV show that teaches kids how to love one another.
“When I was 19, I started studying Tantra,” Joyner said. “Tantra deals with loving energy, life force energy, and energy that rises through your system. Now, it’s no accident that I’ve been spreading ‘I love you’ all around the world.”
If you’ve ever watched a 3-year-old sing along with Barney’s signature song, you know how powerful it can be. You also probably curse the songwriter, because, for anyone over the age of 5, that song is an insidious earworm, remember?
“I love you. You love me. We’re best friends as friends should be,” the dinosaur used to sing. (Sorry if we just lodged that into your head for the rest of the day.)
Anyway, the Barney gig was ideal for Joyner.
He was able to spread a loving message all around the world, and, to be honest, the pay wasn’t bad, either.
“I remember receiving the first residual check, and the check was so big,” Joyner said. “And I was just like, ‘Oh my god, are you kidding me?’
But all good things must come to an end. After 10 years in the purple T-rex outfit, Joyner was ready to move on. He decided to move to Los Angeles to really make a go at this whole acting thing. He started getting roles quickly.
You might recognize Joyner from guest roles on TV favorites such as That ’70s Show, ER, 24, and Shameless. Seeing him in these roles, it’s hard to imagine he got his start piloting a massive purple dinosaur around the set.
Most recently, Joyner has returned to his roots.
He plays a break-dancing teddy bear named Harry in the YouTube series Hip Hop Harry. That’s right; after nearly two decades showing his face to the world, Joyner is back inside a costume. Maybe that’s where he’s meant to be after all.
“Barney was beautiful,” Joyner said. “Barney was very, very good to me. I loved being Barney. I loved everything about being Barney, but that chapter is gone.”
Now the kids who learned how to be kind and polite and loving from Barney are grown up. They’re having kids of their own. If you’re one of those parents, be sure to check out Hip Hop Harry. Two generations in a row might learn their social skills from a guy named David Joyner; it’s just that they might not know it’s him.