Anyone born after 1990 will certainly have fond memories of Steve from Blue’s Clues, the groundbreaking educational children’s TV series that debuted in 1996 and ran for six successful seasons on Nickelodeon. Steve was played by young actor Steve Burns, just 22 when he landed the role of best friend to an animated dog named Blue. The show was an instant hit, quickly becoming Nickelodeon’s highest-rated show.
Thanks to the series’ success, Burns became a TV sensation as Blue’s Clues captivated preschoolers — and, by extension, their parents. When Burns eventually left the show, its young viewers were told he was heading off to college. He was replaced by Donovan Patton, who played Steve’s younger brother, Joe, until the series ended its run in 2006. Despited his exit from Blue’s Clues, Burns continued to be a familiar face thanks to reruns, home video, computer games and all manner of merch, raking in revenues of more than a billion dollars along the way.
Yet what became of the actor who captivated preschool-aged television viewers in the late ’90s? Here’s what really happened to Steve from Blue’s Clues.
Before Blue's Clues, Steve appeared in TV cop shows
Steve Burns didn’t originally aspire to become “Steve from Blue’s Clues” when he launched his career in show business. His original plan, he explained in a 1999 interview with The New York Times, was to be a serious actor, not a children’s TV host. “When I was in college, I used to sit around and talk about the importance of Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, and David Mamet,” said Burns, with the Times revealing he earned a degree in theater at Pennsylvania’s Allentown College. ”Now, I sit around and discuss the importance of Grover’s early work,” he said, referencing the lovable blue Sesame Street Muppet.
In fact, prior to being cast in Blue’s Clues, Burns had already racked up screen credits on two NBC cop shows. According to his IMDb profile, he guest starred in a 1996 episode of Law & Order and a 1998 episode of Homicide: Life on the Street; in the latter, he played he played a high school student suspected of murdering a bullying classmate.
Burns had no illusions about his place Hollywood’s hierarchy. ”I’m a micro-celebrity,” he added. “About as small a celebrity as you can be.”
Steve revealed the real reason he left Blue's Clues
The children who’d grown up watching Blue’s Clues were shocked and saddened when Steve Burns exited Blue’s Clues in 2002, pretty much at the peak of the show’s success (although he later revealed he left in 2000, but the episodes he’d filmed continued to air until 2002).
Years later, Burns offered an explanation for his decision to quit. “Everyone wants there to be a dramatic answer and there’s not,” he told the Daily Mail in 2017, explaining there’s was no “cool answer” explaining his exit. According to Burns, he simply felt it “just seemed like time to go… I was just getting older and I kind of occupied this weird older brother space on that show. Like I was sort of an adult, but not really.”
There was another factor behind Burns’ decision to leave: he was losing his hair. “I knew I wasn’t going to be doing children’s television all my life, mostly because I refused to lose my hair on a kid’s TV show,” Burns said in an interview on a Nick Jr. special, Behind the Clues: 10 Years with Blue. “And it was happening… fast,” he added.
Steve hated the khaki pants he wore on Blue's Clues
As viewers of Blue’s Clues will recall, Steve Burns’ outfit never varied: a green-striped rugby shirt tucked into a pair of clownishly baggy khaki pants. And apparently, Burns was no fan of those pants. According to Us Weekly, in 2016 Burns celebrated the 20th anniversary of the show’s launch by taking to Twitter (his account has subsequently been suspended). Along with a GIF of his Blue’s Clues-era self dancing, he wrote in the caption, “Blue’s Clues turns 20 today and I’m still a little mad about the pants.”
Burns was joking, but he also made a less-than-glowing remark about those unflattering khakis in a 2017 interview with the Daily Mail. “I was going bald and I kind of looked around and I’m like — the people who decided that I should wear these pants are not going to choose a wig with any dignity for me,” he joked. “It’s just not going to happen.”
Burns expressed a similar opinion when he told Fatherly, “If the state of my pleated pants was any indication of the wig technology I’d be given, I made the right choice to leave.”
Steve found acting with an imaginary dog on Blue's Clues to be frustrating
Superimposing footage of Steve Burns onto a computer-animated background gave Blue’s Clues its distinctive look; to add a tangible effect to the computer-generated imagery, artists would create characters and object from paper and fabric, which were then scanned into the computer. Producing the show that way, Blue’s Clues co-creator Todd Kessler told the Los Angeles Times, was not just efficient — it was also far more inexpensive than traditional animation. “Our budget for Blue’s Clues was about one-quarter of what the budget for other Nickelodeon shows was at the time,” he revealed.
This meant that Burns had to act out his scenes in front of a blue screen all by himself, not an ideal scenario for a trained actor used to performing with other actors. As one of the show’s other co-creators, Angela Santomero, told The New York Times in a 1997 interview, Burns wasn’t exactly enamored of the process of performing all by himself and speaking to imaginary characters that would be added in later. According to Santomero, Burns likened the experience to “acting at the bottom of a swimming pool.”
Steve from Blue's Clues had to go on TV to disprove a rumor he'd died
By 1998, Blue’s Clues had become a full-blown TV phenomenon, a pop-culture touchstone that kids couldn’t get enough of. And it was in December of that year that rumors began to circulate claiming Burns had died. According to the rumor-busting Snopes website, variations on his rumored demise ranged from a car accident to a heroin overdose.
As the rumor caught fire, Burns and Blue’s Clues producer Angela Santomero appeared on Today and Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show to refute the hoax. During those appearances, they also discussed how parents could talk to children who may come across information telling them that Blue’s beloved pal had died. “At first, it was highly disturbing because it bothered my mom so much and I would just be furious,” Burns explained in an interview with Fatherly. “If you repeat something long enough on the internet it kind of just doesn’t go away.” He jokingly added, “The one that got me really mad is the one that said I died in a Dodge Charger. I would never drive a Charger! That’s a cop car.”
Steve used to call Blue's Clues "The Rocky Horror Children's Show"
As The New York Times reported in 1997, the same episode of Blue’s Clues that debuted on a Monday would then run on the following days of that week. This was no random glitch, but a purposeful decision, addressing how preschool children learn through repetition.
Children who watched the show, said Steve Burns in an interview with Fatherly, “had a script, knew what was next, couldn’t wait to be part of the show, sing the songs, do the dances, sit and think at the right time,” adding that he used to jokingly call Blue’s Clues “The Rocky Horror Children’s Show.”
While not yet a parent himself, Burns said he’d heard from plenty of them who had “told me you’re kind of held a little hostage by some of the media your kids are ingesting.” Because Blue’s Clues worked so well to engage children’s imaginations, however, the show actually offered a break to beleaguered parents. “To the degree that Blue’s Clues was unique and held kids’ attention, it allowed parents some free time,” Burns added.
Steve from Blue's Clues asked for big bucks when he listed his home in Brooklyn
Back in 2008, Blue’s Clues star Steve Burns purchased a funky townhouse in the hipster-friendly Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. According to People, the property dates back to the 1930s, and was originally a garage and wood shop before being converted into a two-storey, 2,180-square-foot townhouse.
The custom-built home is spectacularly unique, including such features as walls made from the building’s original roof joints and a central courtyard with an ironwood deck constructed from salvaged boards from the original boardwalk at Coney Island. Burns once told New York Magazine that he would often sleep outside, on that deck, on hot summer nights.
In November 2020, Burns put the place on the market, and it wasn’t cheap. The asking price was a hefty $3,350,000. “In all my years of NYC real estate experience, I’ve never seen such a unique and special home,” Jonathan Schulz, one of the realtors representing the home, revealed. “With the incredible amount of outdoor living, and the garage for easy access, it’s almost like it was built specifically for these trying times.”
Steve returned to the Blue's Clues reboot as a producer
When Steve Burns’ final episode of Blue’s Clues aired, he ‘d already been replaced by Donovan Patton, who played Steve’s little brother, Joe. The Burns-less Blue’s Clues soldiered on for two more years, reported The New York Times, before it was eventually cancelled in 2004.
In 2018, Nickelodeon announced plans for a reboot, titled Blues Clues and You; neither Burns nor Patton would star in this new version of the beloved children’s show. After an extensive casting search, Broadway actor Josh Dela Cruz was chosen to be the star of the 21st-century reboot.
Burns may not have resurrected his Steve character for the new iteration of Blue’s Clues, but he did have an offscreen role. As the New York Post reported, he was a consulting producer on Blue’s Clues and You, and was also part of the team that ultimately made the decision to cast Dela Cruz. In addition, he and Donovan appeared on the show to introduce viewers of the reboot to its new star.
Steve gave some key advice to the new Blue's Clues star Josh Dela Cruz
After originating his iconic Blue’s Clues role in the original series, Steve Burns officially passed the torch to Blue’s Clues and You host Josh Dela Cruz. In a Nickelodeon press release, Burns lent his seal of approval. “I had the great honor of being a part of the search for the new host, and I give Josh two thumbs up! He can definitely fill my shoes, and the rugby shirt,” he declared.
As Dela Cruz revealed during a BUILD Series interview, Burns was on hand for his first day of filming. Burns, said Dela Cruz, took him aside and offered a few words of encouragement. “We cast you because we love you, and we love what you’re bringing to the table,” he recalled. Burns also told him to avoid trying to imitate what he’d done in the original. “Just do you and be proud of that,” Burns told Dela Cruz.
It was that pep talk, Dela Cruz admitted, that allowed him the freedom “to go onto set and be able to be myself and to kind of let go of what they’re doing and explore the role.”
Steve from Blue's Clues played Mozart in a stage production of Amadeus
Considering that Steve Burns was just 22 when he was cast for Blue’s Clues, the success of the show pulled him away from his first love: the theater. In fact, as the Reading Eagle recalled, Burns was still in college when he was part of the cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival way back in 1995, a performance that proved to be his big break. His acting was singled out, and wound up taking his burgeoning career to the next level. “Those reviews helped me get an agent,” he explained.
Not long after, Burns landed his life-altering role with Blue’s Clues, putting his theatrical ambitions on hold for more than a decade. Then in 2007, he returned to the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival to star in Amadeus, playing famed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. “It’s one of the best roles in modern theater,” Burns gushed. “It’s an athletic role, and I mean that in an emotional sense.”
In 2011, according to Lehigh Valley Live, Burns again graced the stage, starring in a production of Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors at Pennsylvania’s DeSales University.
Steve from Blue's Clues recorded albums with a member of the Flaming Lips
After exiting Blue’s Clues, Steve Burns took a sharp turn in a whole other direction when he embarked on a musical career. As MTV News reported, music had been a longtime passion for Burns, who’d played in bands since high school. In 2002, he recorded an album, Songs for Dustmites, backed by Flaming Lips’ Steve Drozd, and produced by the band’s producer Dave Fridmann. “People are really surprised it doesn’t suck,” Burns told The Observer of his debut album, which was released in 2003.
Burns followed that up with a second album, Deep Sea Recovery Efforts, credited to Steve Burns and the Struggle, once again collaborating with Drozd. Burns and Drozd once again teamed up for the 2017 children’s album Foreverywhere, released under the band name STEVENSTEVEN. Burns even appeared in a video for the album’s first single, “The Unicorn and Princess Rainbow.”
Not surprisingly, the Flaming Lips hold a deep significance to Burns. As he told Fatherly, “I was blown away by the Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin,” declaring the 1999 album to be “still my favorite record of all time.”
Steve from Blue's Clues has a surprising net worth
While it may seem as if Steve Burns has more or less drifted away from the celebrity radar since ending his stint on Blue’s Clues, if he chooses to maintain a low profile it’s because he can afford to. According to Celebrity Net Worth, he’s worth an estimated $10 million, a worthy sum for a guy once considered a superstar among the preschool set.
Not only was Blue’s Clues Nickelodeon’s most popular show, it also generated some serious money from home video, computer games, toys, books, and other assorted merchandise. Blue’s Clues, in fact, was Nickelodeon’s first-ever billion-dollar franchise, and Burns was right at the center of it all.
When Blue’s Clues was rebooted in 2019, there were big plans to cash in with a new batch of merch. “The benefit to developing a line of product for a reboot like Blue’s Clues is the show has history with fans and retailers, and we were able to pull sales data, speak with the original retail buyers, and also do consumer testing to understand what is resonating with kids today,” Jennifer Caveza, SVP of toys for Viacom Nickelodeon consumer products, told Kidscreen.
Steve took on other acting roles after Blue's Clues
In addition to performing onstage and recording albums, Steve Burns has also continued to pursue acting in the years following his exit from Blue’s Clues; according to IMDb, Burns has been busy racking up some non-Blue’s Clues screen credits since then. These include a small role in the 2004 film Marie & Bruce, starring alongside Saturday Night Live alum Darrel Hammond in the 2007 comedy Netherbeast Incorporated, and starring in the 2008 oddity Christmas on Mars, directed by Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne.
Burns has also made two appearances on web series The Professionals, both times playing the wacky and wealthy “Investor X.” More recently, Burns guest starred on Young Sheldon, the CBS spinoff of hit comedy The Big Bang Theory. In the episode, Burns plays Nathan, a creepy Star Trek enthusiast whom Sheldon Cooper (Iain Armitage) invites over after meeting on a Star Trek message board.
That’s not Burns’ only connection to Young Sheldon. As TV Guide confirmed, Burns also wrote the sitcom’s theme song, “Mighty Little Man”, taken from his debut album Songs for Dustmites.
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