Mr. Rogers dies of cancer at 74


PITTSBURGH - Fred Rogers, the host of the American public television show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" for more than 30 years, died Thursday morning of cancer at 74.

"He was so genuinely, genuinely kind, a wonderful person," David Newell, who played Mr. McFeely, told The Associated Press . (McFeely was Rogers' middle name.)

"His mission was to work with families and children for television...That was his passion, his mission and he did it from Day One."

An icon to millions of children, Rogers produced the show from 1968 to 2000 at Pittsburgh public television station WQED. The show's final episode was taped in December 2000 and aired in August 2001.

Every show began the same, with Rogers entering a set made to look like a comfortable living room. People of all ages will forever remember his unchanging routine: hanging up his jacket, taking off his shoes, then putting on a sweater and sneakers.

This was always accompanied by him singing "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood."

He often ended up, thanks to a magical trolley ride, in the "Neighborhood of Make-Believe," where puppets would weave stories and sing songs along with Rogers.

Rogers wrote most of the show's songs and did much of the puppet work and voices. His Neighborhood of Make-Believe featured Mr. McFeely and Lady Elaine Fairchilde who were joined by puppets King Friday the Thirteenth, Daniel Striped Tiger and Curious X the Owl.

He was born in Pennsylvania and later studied music in college. He worked as a puppeteer on the show "The Children's Corner" where he created many of the characters who would appear on "Neighborhood".

Rogers' television show originated on CBC in 1962 as "Misterogers," a 15-minute program that featured many of the puppets and characters he used when he brought his show back to the U.S. in 1968.

Ernie Coombs, better known to Canadians young and old as Mr. Dressup, began his CBC career as a puppeteer on "Misterogers."

One month before his own death in 2001, Coombs said he owed his career to Rogers.

"He taught me so much about children's TV that you can't learn in a book," he said.

Unlike the flashy action cartoons that made up much of the rest of children's programming, Rogers remained the same over the years and stuck to his message that children should love themselves and others.

"I got into television because I hated it so," he said. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

Rogers won numerous awards and four Emmys. His red cardigan sweater hangs in the Smithsonian Institute.

Last year, President George W. Bush presented Rogers with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honour.

"Fred did what he knew he needed to be done in his sphere of influence. He had his own kingdom," said Bob Keeshan, better know as Captain Kangaroo.

Cheryl Hassen, creative head of children's programming for CBC-TV told The Canadian Press that Rogers understood what young children needed and dedicated his life to them.

She said the CBC emulates many of the values found on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

"He has left a lasting legacy and will be greatly missed by children young and old," she said.

For more arts news, listen to The Arts Report weekdays at 7:12 a.m., 8:12 a.m. and 5:55 p.m. on CBC Radio Two.