Memory of Mr. Rogers
Rogers died Thursday 2/27/03 after a bout with stomach cancer at his Pittsburgh home at 74.
was born in Latrobe. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1962 with a
charge to continue his work with children and families through television.
produced the show at Pittsburgh public television station WQED beginning in
1966, going national two years later. The final episode was taped in December
2000 and aired in August 2001, though PBS affiliates continued to broadcast old
"In real life as in the Neighborhood, Mr. Rogers was an extraordinary man," cellist and Neighborhood guest Yo-Yo Ma said. "Through music and stories, his caring and wisdom transcended every barrier; his advocacy for children was truly an advocacy for the human race."
low-key, low-tech public television show was in sharp contrast to the louder,
more animated competition. It presented Rogers as one adult in an increasingly
busy world who always had time to listen to children.
The show examined the tribulations of childhood, including anger, fear, even a visit to the dentist.
The show's ratings peaked in 1985-86 when about 8 percent of all U.S. households with televisions tuned in. By the 1999-2000 season, viewership had dropped to about 2.7 percent, or 3.6 million people.
The show won four Emmys, and Rogers won another for lifetime achievement. He received a Peabody Award in 1993 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in July 2002.
Rogers opened each episode in a set made to look like a comfortable living room, singing, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood." He composed his own songs for the show.
One of his trademark zip-up sweaters hangs in the Smithsonian Institution.
"Today, our state has lost a great role model and our country has lost one of history's greatest teachers," Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
Former first lady Barbara Bush noted several generations of children, "including our own, grew up with Mr. Rogers, always looking forward to time spent in his neighborhood.
"In addition to helping children learn everything from how to tie their shoes to appreciating jazz music, he also taught his young viewers the importance of sharing, being truthful and good manners. And he stressed the importance of reading and writing, for which he'll always be one of my heroes."
In April 2002, President Bush invited Rogers to help launch a reading program. When Rogers entered the room with no introduction, spontaneous applause erupted.
"What a loss to the world. He talked to kids at the ages of 4 to 6 about feelings. That's the age when they begin to realize they have an effect on their world," said Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, an author and child development specialist.
In his show, Rogers would talk to viewers in a slow, quiet voice and introduce them to other characters and to guests such as Ma and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Then he would take his audience on a magical trolley ride into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, where puppet creations including X the Owl, King Friday XIII and Daniel Striped Tiger would interact with each other and adults.
Rogers did much of the puppet work on his show.
"He was not an actor. People would ask us, 'What is Mr. Rogers really like?' The thing was, he was the same," said family spokesman David Newell, who played Mr. McFeely on the show.
Bob Keeshan, who appeared on television as "Captain Kangaroo," said he and Rogers often spoke of how children's programming had become increasingly violent.
don't think it's any secret that Fred and I were not very happy with the way
children's television had gone," Keeshan said.
a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the show in 1993, Rogers said,
“It’s not the honors and not the titles and not the power that is of
ultimate importance. It’s what resides inside.”
But Rogers never stopped trying to make a difference. He came out of broadcasting retirement last year to record public service announcements telling parents how to help children deal with the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
In January, Rogers served as a grand marshal of the Rose Parade with Bill Cosby and Art Linkletter. "More times than I could count I heard the people yelling, 'Welcome to the neighborhood, Mr. Rogers,'" Cosby said.
was diagnosed with cancer last December and had surgery in early January, but
his health declined in the past two weeks, said Bill Isler, head of Family
Communications. Funeral arrangements were incomplete, but Isler said a private
service for the family and a public memorial would be scheduled soon.
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