Fred Rogers, who for more than 30 years touched the lives of children and parents as host of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, died of stomach cancer Thursday at age 74.
From 1968 to 2000, Rogers opened a daily television program in a cozy living room, singing "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood" while he changed into a cardigan and sneakers. Produced at Pittsburgh public television station WQED, the show focused on teaching toddlers self-esteem, patience and tolerance. Rogers used a trolley take his viewers to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, where his puppet friends, such as King Friday XIII and Lady Elaine Fairchilde, helped youngsters solve problems and encouraged creativity.
Born just outside Pittsburgh, Rogers started his career as a puppeteer in The Children's Corner, a local show he helped launch at WQED. An ordained Presbyterian minister, he kept his message simple, telling people to love themselves and others. In an interview on the WHYY radio program Fresh Air, Rogers stressed the importance of listening to children and setting a good example.
"Children are going to mimic what the adults in their lives do," Rogers said. "And so the kind of ways that you have of expressing your anger will probably be the kinds of ways that your children will express theirs. And that's not all bad. But I do think that it's very important for us to be up front with our children and give them words for their feelings."
Expressing feelings in healthy ways was a recurring theme on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He was gentle, but firm, in the belief that learning discipline is an important aspect of childhood.
"Discipline is a kind of love. If children didn't have limits from those who cared about them, they would never feel that they were loved," Rogers said. "So healthy limits, which children understand, are a marvelous way of saying, 'I care about you.'"
After he taped his final episode in 2000, Rogers continued his work with children through his non-profit organization, Family Communications, Inc. He also wrote a book on understanding the young child, called The Mister Rogers Parenting Book.
Rogers' show won four Emmy Awards, plus one for lifetime achievement. He was given a George Foster Peabody Award in 1993, "in recognition of 25 years of beautiful days in the neighborhood." In January 2003, Rogers was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.