Longtime area musician Bob Burns — whose career with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) turned him into a genuine social media star — died unexpectedly this morning (Oct. 19). He was 48. Burns passing was confirmed by TSA on social media this afternoon. Friends on social media yesterday said that Burns had been hospitalized with a serious bacterial infection.
Burns was born in Hamilton, Ohio and served in the Army after high school before returning to the area and forming the Roots Rock band Big In Iowa, which did a few European tours and was a beloved act in the Cincinnati area in the late ’90s and early ’00s (Big In Iowa won the first Cincinnati Entertainment Award in the Rock category in 1997). After a stint living in Virginia, Burns relocated to West Chester, Ohio a few years ago and reformed Big In Iowa for occasional gigs.
But Burns was best known nationally as the person behind the TSA’s Instagram account. He began his career with the TSA as a screener at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport a year after 9/11 (the agency was created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C.). He became the TSA's official blogger in 2008 before taking over the agency's Instagram in 2013.
The TSA’s Instagram garnered attention with its photos of confiscated items and Burns’ especially humorous commentary. It was held up as a leading example of how a corporate or government account can smartly connect with people on social media. The account won multiple awards like Webbys (given out by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences) and Burns was featured in all forms of media with its increased popularity. He’d been profiled in the past year alone by NBC News, the Chicago Tribune, the Austin Statesmen and Mental Floss. Rolling Stone declared the account No. 4 on its list of best Instagram accounts and it got a nod from late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmell. Last month, Burns was featured on the syndicated TV program The Doctors (watch below).
Burns is survived by his wife and two young daughters.
UPDATE: On Oct. 20, tsa.gov posted a nice tribute to Burns written by the TSA's Michael Bilello:
TSA mourns the loss of Curtis Robert Burns, or as most of you know him, Blogger Bob, who passed away yesterday. His death is a shock and the enormity of his loss can only be imagined at this time. He loved this agency. He loved the people who work here. And he loved the American people we serve.
But most importantly, he loved his family. And it was that love, and he talked about it regularly, that helped him choose his words on this blog, on Instagram, and on the other social media platforms he effortlessly turned to his will. He said on more than one occasion that all he ever needed to do was use dad humor. His dad humor, of course, was special, and resonated with hundreds of thousands of followers. It was beautiful, and it worked. He helped to humanize the men and women of TSA doing a very difficult job at airport checkpoints across the country—at all hours. He started as a Transportation Security Officer, and understood them better than most at the headquarters level. He was their voice. His humor was cathartic. His Top 10 items of ridiculous items found at the checkpoint reminded everyone that commonsense isn’t evenly distributed. And what screening officers did isn’t security theater. And if it were, the cast of characters were often those being screened and not doing the screening, as some suggest. His gift to us all was laughter, and he reminded us that as serious as the mission is, you can still find humor in the daily duties. It can be an arduous undertaking.
I ask that you mourn with us. Remember the important security and life lessons he taught us. And Bob would insist that we laugh and remember back on the many whimsical posts he published in the decade he labored lovingly as Blogger Bob. Safe travels, Bob. We love you!