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To a lot of us, he’s a hero– Fred Rogers revolutionized the way we think about television, and brought a kinder, gentler face to our TV screens. But there is a lot that not many of us know about the man himself. Here are some of the best things that never got widely reported about Fred Rogers off-screen, until long after the show was over.
He Was Married
Because Mr. Rogers rarely mentioned his wife on the show, and looked like he lived alone, lots of us just assumed he lived alone in real life. But he had a wife — her maiden name was Sara Joanne Byrd, and they met while attending Rollins College in Winter Park, FL.
He Was a Vegetarian
According to various reports, Rogers didn’t eat meat, mostly out of compassion for the animals. He said he didn’t want to eat “anything that has a mother,” and while that might seem over the top in terms of niceness, it made him kind of a trend-setter as more of us are cutting down on meat, for a lot of reasons.
He Was An Ordained Minister
Yes, Mr. Rogers also had clerical bona fides, as a minister in the United Presbyterian Church since his ordination in 1962. He also had a degree in music.
He Liked to Remind People to Stay Humble
There are some great accounts online of Fred Rogers accepting awards and speaking to large audiences, asking them to observe a moment of silence for some of those who helped them to achieve their successes in life. Rogers was big on humility — and he probably would have had something to say about the “I built that” campaign and response that flared up in hot-button politics a few years ago.
He Worked for VHS as Fair Use
Mr. Rogers didn’t think you should restrict content — and campaigned in Congress for people being able to record TV shows to watch them later. This video activism was part of what allowed us to advance toward the on-demand viewing that’s so popular and diversified into many different formats today.
He Was Into Numerology
Reportedly, Fred Rogers was really into the number 143, so much so that he kept his body weight at that same exact amount for years. According to Rogers, the number stood for the words “I love you.” By observing this strange ritual, Rogers falls into the unlikely company of much less “nice” numerology fans like Aleister Crowley, etc.
He Broke Cold War Barriers
That’s right, Rogers appeared once on a Soviet Union kids’ TV show. An online Chicago Tribune clip from 1987 shows Rogers prepared to visit Moscow to appear on ‘Spokoinoi Nochi, Malyshi’ (translated: “Good Night, Kids.”) – and in return, the Soviet show’s host, host Tatyana Vedeneyeva, planned to visit American TV in return.
He Was Color-Blind
Although his sweaters are carefully color-coordinated, Rogers actually had trouble distinguishing the colors red and green.
He Visited “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood”
You wouldn’t think that a guy like Fred would appreciate the lampooning of his show on the “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood” SNL skits of the 1990s, but reports show had a sense of humor about Eddie Murphy’s riff on the children’s classic, as in this hilarious story from L.A. Weekly where Murphy got a visit from “the real Mr. Rogers” on set.
He Left the “Ivy League”
After a couple of years at Dartmouth, Rogers decided to skip the ivy league experience, and headed to the aforementioned Rollins College where he got his music degree. A heart-warming post from Benjamin Wagner on MTV.com shows how Fred Rogers was a risk-taker, a guy who stood up for what he believed in, and who wasn’t afraid to follow his own path in life.
Even today, the legacy of Fred Rogers lives on, and these are just some of the things that have surfaced to show that there’s more to the man’s life than most Gen X’ers who watched his show ever knew.