Fred McFeely Rogers (March 20, 1928 - February 27, 2003) was the host of the internationally acclaimed children's television show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Mister Rogers, as he became known to millions, was an ordained Presbyterian minister, who lived and worked in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area for most of his life.
Rogers' show won four Emmy awards, including one for lifetime achievement. He also received a Peabody Award in 1983, "in recognition of 25 beautiful years in the neighborhood". On July 9, 2002, Fred Rogers received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to children's education. "Fred Rogers has proven that television can soothe the soul and nurture the spirit and teach the very young," said President George W. Bush at the presentation.
He was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. He studied early childhood development at the University of Pittsburgh.
Life and work
In 1954, he began working at WQED Pittsburgh as a puppeteer on a local children's television series, The Children's Corner. For the next seven years, he worked in unscripted live TV, and developed many of the puppets, characters and music used in his later work, such as King Friday the XIII, and Curious X the Owl.
During this period, for eight years he gave up lunch breaks to study theology at a nearby seminary. He had planned to enter seminary after college, but had been diverted into television. In 1962 he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, and specifically charged to continue his work with children's TV.
In 1966 he moved the show back to WQED in Pittsburgh, incorporating parts of the show into a show he developed for the Eastern Educational Network to cities including Boston, Massachusetts, Washington, DC and New York City.
Distribution of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood began on National Educational Television on February 19, 1968. The following year the show moved to the PBS network, where it continues to be broadcast today. The last set of new episodes was taped in December 2000 and began airing on August 2001.
After returning to Pittsburgh, he was an active congregational member in the Sixth Presbyterian church of Pittsburgh until his death.
Each show began the same way, with Mister Rogers coming home and singing his theme song, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" and changing into comfortable shoes and a red, zippered cardigan sweater.
The show's target audience was chiefly pre-school children and featured none of the animation or fast pace of Sesame Street. Rogers, who composed all the music for the show, would interact with live guests or with the puppets of his "Neighborhood of Make-Believe", featuring a trolley (with its own chiming theme song), a castle and various citizens of the kingdom.
Mister Rogers was concerned with teaching children to love themselves and others. He also tried to address common childhood fears with comforting songs and skits. For example, one of his famous songs explains how you can't be pulled down the bathtub drain - because you won't fit.
During the Gulf War, he assured children that all children in the neighborhood would be well cared-for, and asked parents to promise to take care of their children. The still timely and reassuring message was aired again by PBS during the media storm that preceded the military action against Iraq in 2003.
Guest stars were often surprised to find that he was a perfectionist, unwilling to let half-baked ad-libbing go on the air. He thought children were people and deserved shows as good as anything else on TV. Guests on the show ranged from cellist Yo-Yo Ma to actor and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno of TV's The Incredible Hulk.
Rogers is quoted as saying, "I got into television because I hated it so. And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."
His gentle manner has been lampooned by some comedians, notably a parody called "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood," on Saturday Night Live by Eddie Murphy in the 1980s. Rogers found the routine funny and affectionate.  When Murphy met Mister Rogers, he embraced him and respectfully pronounced him "the real Mister Rogers". Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion radio broadcasts also ran parodies of Rogers.
On March 4, 2003, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Resolution 111 by a vote of 412-0 honoring Rogers "for his legendary service to the improvement of the lives of children, his steadfast commitment to demonstrating the power of compassion, and his dedication to spreading kindness through example."
On May 2, 2003, the International Astronomical Union announced that an asteroid, formerly known as No. 26858, had been renamed "Misterrogers." The announcement was made by the director of the Henry Buhl Jr. Planetarium & Observatory at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh. The science center worked with Rogers' "Family Communications, Inc." to produce a planetarium show for preschoolers called "The Sky Above Mister Rogers' Neighborhood", which plays at planetariums across the United States.
A rumor (turned urban myth) developed that Fred Rogers was, at some point in his life, a sniper for the United States army in Vietnam (or elsewhere), and that he wore his trademark long-sleeved red cardigan sweater to cover the tattoos of his army days. Though this rumor has been thoroughly debunked, it continues to have some circulation. Its persistence represents a typical subculture-style distortion: a popular, well-loved icon is asserted to be a killer when, by all credible accounts, Fred Rogers was simply an incredibly nice and gentle human being.