People seem to be feeling the death of Fred Rogers very deeply – we have had three very personal and sweet dedications on our site already. For me personally, I think he was a bit too sincere and anacronistic – I fear that I don’t quite trust entertainment completely devoid of irony and a bit of show biz. But I am certain this is my problem and not Fred’s – I never doubted him for a moment personally, and much to my suprise when I heard him announce his last show as my then-2 year-old ate her cereal, I was sad. Now I am sadder still.
Esquire ran a surprising, somewhat strange, but deeply touching piece on Mister Rogers by Tom Junod back in 1998 – it’s running again as a memorial:
- ONCE UPON A TIME, a long time ago, a man took off his jacket and put on a sweater. Then he took off his shoes and put on a pair of sneakers. His name was Fred Rogers. He was starting a television program, aimed at children, called Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He had been on television before, but only as the voices and movements of puppets, on a program called The Children’s Corner. Now he was stepping in front of the camera as Mister Rogers, and he wanted to do things right, and whatever he did right, he wanted to repeat. And so, once upon a time, Fred Rogers took off his jacket and put on a sweater his mother had made him, a cardigan with a zipper. The he took off his shoes and put on a pair of navy-blue canvas boating sneakers. He did the same thing the next day, and then the next…until he had done the same things, those things, 865 times, at the beginning of the 865 television programs, over a span of thirty-one years. The first time I met Mister Rogers, he told me a story of how deeply his simple gestures had been felt, and received. He had just come back from visiting Koko, the gorilla who has learned – or who has been taught – American Sign Language. Koko watches television. Koko watches Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and when Mister Rogers, in his sweater and sneakers, entered the place where she lives, Koko immediately folded him in her long, black arms, as though he were a child, and then … “She took my shoes off, Tom,” Mister Rogers said.
Koko was much bigger than Mister Rogers. She weighed 280 pounds, and Mister Rogers weighed 143. Koko weighed 280 pounds because she is a gorilla, and Mister Rogers weighed 143 pounds because he has weighed 143 pounds as long as he has been Mister Rogers, because once upon a time, around thirty-one years ago, Mister Rogers stepped on a scale, and the scale told him that Mister Rogers weighs 143 pounds. No, not that he weighed 143 pounds, but that he weighs 143 pounds…. And so, every day, Mister Rogers refuses to do anything that would make his weight change – he neither drinks, nor smokes, nor eats flesh of any kind, nor goes to bed late at night, nor sleeps late in the morning, nor even watches television – and every morning, when he swims, he steps on a scale in his bathing suit and his bathing cap and his goggles, and the scale tells him that he weighs 143 pounds….
When I was younger, I used to think Eddie Murphy’s parody of Mister Rogers on SNL was of greater cultural import than Rogers himself – I don’t think that anymore.