Fred Rogers, beloved producer and host of the famed children's public television show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, died early this morning at his home in Pittsburgh after a brief battle with stomach cancer. He was 74 years old.
Born Fred McFeely Rogers in 1928, in the western Pennsylvania town of Latrobe near Pittsburgh, Rogers' television career began in 1951 when he was hired as an assistant producer at NBC. In 1953 he moved back to Pittsburgh to co-produce a program called The Children's Corner, the show where several several of the famous Mister Rogers' characters made their first appearance - among them Daniel Striped Tiger, King Friday XIII, Lady Elaine Fairchilde and X the Owl.
In 1963, opportunity took him to Toronto where he created a series of fifteen-minute children's shows called Mister Rogers. The program was set in a fantasy neighborhood full of puppets except for Mr. Rogers and a guest, and was the beginnings of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Pittsburgh was in his blood, however, and Fred Rogers returned home in 1966 where, at WQED, he incorporated the fifteen-minute segments from Mister Rogers into a half hour show which he began hosting in 1967. From the very first episode, Mister Rogers began his show by walking through the front door of his television house and exchanging his suit coat and dress shoes for a sweater and tennies (play clothes) - a routine designed to make children feel comfortable during their "television visit." Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was an instant success, and PBS began distributing it nationally the next year.
In 2000, after 50 years in television and 33 years as the creator and host of 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood,' Fred Rogers hung up his famous cardigan sweater and took off his tennis shoes for the last time at the WQED studios in Pittsburgh. Fred still didn't retire, however, turning his attention to his Web sites, publications and special museum programs.
During his career of service to children and their families, Rogers was the recipient of two Peabody Awards, four Emmys, a "Lifetime Achievement" Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the nations highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. One of his famous cardigan sweaters even hangs in the Smithsonian as a national treasure.
Fred Rogers has been a part of my life since I was a little girl and has been a very important part of my children's lives as well. My husband still has letters he received from Mr. Rogers as a child, and my oldest daughter has one of her own. He's the only celebrity I've ever met who read every letter ever written to him, and answered most of them as well. He inspired genuine joy in everyone he met, children and adults alike. Years after my childhood had faded into memory, I still found myself thrilled to see Mr. Rogers on the street or in the grocery store. As gentle, humorous, and non-assuming in real life as he was on television, Fred Rogers was a friend and neighbor to all.
It brings peace to remember that his passing, however sad, does not mean goodbye. Fred Rogers and his simple, life-affirming message -- that everyone is special just as they are -- will live on in reruns and through a variety of special projects created under his direction. Mister Rogers, who made all neighborhoods beautiful, is someone I was proud to call my neighbor and friend.
The neighborhood's a little sad today, but remember Mr. Rogers would say that it's okay to cry.
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