Fred Rogers died ten years ago today. This website didn’t exist back then, but if it did I’m sure there would have been some heavy memorializing around here of the man we all came to know and love as Mr. Rogers. So allow us to do a little of that today.
A Presbyterian minister, Rogers’ life in television began when he, disappointed in the quality of shows for children on television, started a show for kids on a Pittsburgh-area public TV station. In short, he sought to use television as a vehicle to get children to love themselves.
“I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen,” he once told CNN in an interview. “The whole idea is to look at the television camera and present as much love as you possibly could to a person who might feel that he or she needs it.”
In 1963, Rogers moved to Canada where he developed a show for Canadian public television. In 1968, he brought Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood to the United States, where it remained on the air for over three decades. A vegetarian who never smoke or drank, the sight and sound of Rogers singing his show’s theme song still has the power to transform you to another place and time.
Who can forget the time he testified before Congress in 1969, explaining the importance of his show to a congressman who’d never seen it before. He read a poem and made the congressman cry and essentially won a $20 million grant for PBS single-handedly.
And his acceptance speech after receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 Emmys remains one of the greatest awards show speeches ever given. It still brings tears to my eyes.
The man was a goddamn saint on earth. Few people in world history have touched more lives more profoundly. Fred Rogers’ birthday should be a national holiday. Hopefully he’s resting in peace.
UPDATE: Commenter “Matchstick” reminded me about a profile Tom Junod did on Rogers for Esquire years ago. It’s definitely worth giving your time to read. And as an added bonus, here’s an interview Junod did with NPR at the time of Rogers’ death.