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Children's entertainer and television personality Fred Rogers is best known for his decades of work as host of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, a children's show that aired on PBS, focused around education, empathy, and creativity. But what you may not know about Fred Rogers is that he harbored a dark and disturbing secret...

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You see, Mr. Rogers was, in fact...

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...JUST AS PERFECT AS HE SEEMED.

...

Okay, let me explain.

He was seriously PERFECT. That kindly old man in nice sweaters and comfy shoes he presented himself as? That was totally him, both on-camera and off. There was no secret life of vice and illicit activity. No scandals swept under the rug by the PBS PR team. As far as I can tell, the guy never even forgot to put his turn signal on. He was kind, he was patient, he was honest, and he cared deeply about everything and everyone around him. He was the best of us.

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Here's the deal - EVERY childhood hero or idol you had has done something horrible. I'll give you an example: Dr. Seuss. Yes, THAT Dr. Seuss (real name Theodor Geisel). The guy who wrote all of those extremely cutesy books about empathy, the importance of generosity, and why it's a lot easier to rhyme when you can just make up whatever nonsense word you need to at any moment. As a result, he's largely regarded as a whimsical figure - called "Doctor" even though he's primarily known as an author and illustrator, with the goofy surname "Seuss," and the creator of a cavalcade of wacky, iconic characters like The Grinch, the Cat in the Hat, the Lorax, and more.

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But here's the thing about Dr. Seuss - and (nearly) every person you've ever heard of: he has a dark side. A real dark side - the most jarring example being the suicide of Seuss' wife, Helen Palmer, a fellow author and editor. None of this is to say that Seuss was personally responsible for what happened to his wife, but it's hard to deny that his actions preceding her passing were....not great.

Palmer had suffered through years of cancer - but the most painful experience she had endured was knowledge of her husband's affair with a woman named Audrey Stone Diamond. She wrote in her suicide note:

"Dear Ted, What has happened to us? I don't know. I feel myself in a spiral, going down down down, into a black hole from which there is no escape, no brightness. And loud in my ears from every side I hear, 'failure, failure, failure...' I love you so much ... I am too old and enmeshed in everything you do and are, that I cannot conceive of life without you ... My going will leave quite a rumor but you can say I was overworked and overwrought. Your reputation with your friends and fans will not be harmed ... Sometimes think of the fun we had all thru the years ..."

She feared Seuss would leave her for his mistress, so took her own life to avoid having to face the pain of a life without her partner. Seuss later married his mistress, less than a year after Helen's death. So yeah - Dr. Seuss cheated on his cancer-stricken wife, who killed herself and wrote an apologetic suicide note to him.

Mr. Rogers, though? NONE OF THAT STUFF.

Honestly, the worst thing I could find about him is this out-of-context photo of him flippin' the DOUBLE-bird.

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That gave me hope - maybe he was doing a playful joke at the cameraman or the director, just razzing them over some disagreement or something. Sure, this would be a pretty minor bit of naughtiness from anyone, but at least it was SOME evidence that maybe Mr. Rogers wasn't entirely the pure being of goodness he was often portrayed as.

But - nope - it turns out he was just singing a song with some children on his show, and using your middle fingers were just acting out what was being described by the lyrics. See, the song is "Where Is Thumbkin," and the lyrics go like this:

Where is Thumbkin?
Where is Thumbkin?
Here I am!
Here I am!

How are you today, sir?
Very well, I thank you.
Run away.  
Run away.

Where is Pointer?
Where is Pointer?
Here I am!
Here I am!

How are you today, sir?
Very well, I thank you.
Run away.  
Run away.

Where is Middleman?
Where is Middleman?
Here I am!
Here I am!

How are you today, sir?
Very well, I thank you.
Run away.  
Run away.

No, he wasn't flipping anyone off or even indicating anything of the sort - he was just acting out a playful song for kids, because OF COURSE HE WAS, HE'S PERFECT.

The personal stories about Mr. Rogers that PROVE he was....still perfect, dang.

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So I figured - okay, he never let the mask slip in public. Sure. He was careful to maintain his squeaky-clean image. That makes sense. But behind-the-scenes, he HAD to have let his guard down at some point. Been rude to a fan, said something inappropriate, anything like that. So I went looking for personal stories people had about Mr. Rogers, and the results were...exactly what you'd expect.

When I was about 5 years old, my older brother was a guest and I got to attend the taping. I remember being SO upset to see the neighborhood as a studio set. I couldn't understand how it looked like the neighborhood I knew from TV but, I don't know... wasn't the neighborhood I knew at all. I melted down - sobbing, hiding myself as best I could behind my dad's legs, hyperventilating - the whole bit. My parents started freaking out, too -- ssshhing me and trying to peel me off of them, embarrassed, I'm sure.

Mr. Rogers and the show's crew were prepping with the child guests at the point I had my meltdown. Mr. Rogers (according to my mom) politely excused himself from the group, came over to me, and knelt down beside me.

No joke, it was like he had this bubble of peace and tranquility that just enveloped me as soon as he got near me. He worked his Mr. Rogers magic - calmly introduced himself, asked my name, told me that he was so excited to meet me. He said he noticed that I was upset and that he was really sorry for it, because the feelings of his friends mattered very much to him. He asked me why I was upset. Through post-sob hiccups, I pitifully told him that the neighborhood looked different from TV. He said he understood how that could be upsetting. Then he asked, "Does it feel like the neighborhood you know? Does it feel like a place to be with good friends?" Completely calmed me down - both with his tone and his message.

The experience had a huge impact on me. My parents (wonderful as they were) were very reactionary in raising us - the default was to try and pacify, mitigate, avoid, deter, quell, or control our (bad) behaviors / super-charged reactions. But at that age, a lot of "bad" behavior is really just a kid's imperfect way of expressing and processing big, new emotions. When Mr. Rogers knelt down to talk to me, it was the first time any adult had outright acknowledged my feelings, made me feel safe to express them, and made sure I knew that expressing them was okay (and healthy!). Because of this experience, as an adult I make it a point to verbally acknowledge my children's feelings before correcting their behavior. Seems to work - my kids are pretty awesome little people!

So, yeah. Mr. Rogers is amazing.

via felonious_crouton



In the early 80s my dad was chaplain at a college and when Mr. Rogers came to visit (commencement speech maybe?) he was in charge of hosting him. So, Mr. Rogers stopped by my house. I was too young to remember at the time, but here's the story as legend has it.

My mom used to use Mr. Rogers as a behavioral tool with my sister. If my sister was doing something bad, she'd say something like, "I'm going to tell Mr. Rogers and what will he think?" etc.

So, when Mr. Rogers literally showed up at our house, my sister freaked out and couldn't stop crying and wouldn't look at him. But of course he was very gentle with her.

Our babysitter was over to take care of us during commencement, and Mr. Rogers singled her out and said, "I bet you do such a good job of taking care of these kids."

That's the kind of thing that's amazing. I've been in a million social situations with a million different people and am often at a loss of what to say to anyone. And Mr. Rogers just comes straight out with the most simple thing of all -- oh, I bet you're good at what you do. Class act.

via eddiewoodjr



"The crew would often play little pranks on 'Fred' (as we called him) while cameras were rolling. Some have actually made it to some blooper reels.  A few favorites were stuffing extra socks and other objects inside his tennis shoes that he would change into during the show. He would be on camera singing and then, he would go to change from his street shoes to his sneakers and his foot wouldn't fit into the shoe. Another prank was to hide inside the closet where he would hang his sweater. Generally, while cameras were rolling he would open the closet door to hang up his suit jacket and change into his infamous sweater and one of the crew would jump out at him to startle him. He never swore, but generally would break into laughter."

via Beverly Mitzel

Honestly - it seems like NO ONE who has ever been in contact with him has a single negative thing to say about him (except for Fox News blaming him for making kids "too entitled." Although if Fox News is ripping on you, chances are you've done something right.)



His fan letter responses are so good and pure, he makes Jesus look like Rob Schneider

At this point, I'd pretty much given up on finding any dirt on ol' Mr. Rogers, and just decided to indulge myself in this being of pure light. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but - to be fair - these ARE some pretty incredible replies:

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via anOKgirl



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via jasonlovestummyrubs



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via flyingcowofdoom



The time he featured a severely disabled child and made him feel good

Disabled people face so many challenges in their lives, it's almost difficult to comprehend - beyond having to overcome their own physical disabilities in a world not designed for them (and often hostile to their very existence), there's a distinct social challenge too. People treat the disabled differently (in a broad sense) - either by avoiding social engagement altogether or treating them as though they weren't just normal people who wanted to be treated as anyone else. And while it's very easy to say you should treat everyone fairly, that's not always going to work with young children - and that was the beauty of Mr. Rogers. He would show them how to treat others, no matter how different they may seem - with kindness and humanity.

It's very likely you've seen this video, or at least clips from it. Regardless, I highly recommend you watch it again - just to fully take in how special Mr. Rogers makes the kid feel. And then I highly recommend you watch this video, filmed years and years later...when the kid had grown up into an adult, and surprised Mr. Rogers at the TV Hall of Fame:



The little things he did to make every viewer feel special and heard

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Mr. Roger was not only perfect, but incredibly humble about his perfection. He never made a big deal out of the things he would do for his audience -  because  that's just the sort of fella Mr. Rogers was. Take, for instance, the time a visually-impaired child wrote to Mr. Rogers:

Dear Mister Rogers,

Please say when you are feeding your fish, because I worry about them. I can't see if you are feeding them, so please say you are feeding them out loud.

So what do you think he did? Yep - he went and started announcing aloud that he was feeding his fish, just to make sure that one viewer felt better.



The time he gave one of the only good awards show speeches ever

For the most part, awards show speeches are a bit insufferable - big Hollywood actors and actresses patting themselves on the back, pretending to care about issues of the day, and generally bloviating and going on too long naming every one of their agents. Not Mr. Rogers though - Mr. Rogers used his Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award to do something incredibly Mr. Rogers-y.



The time he saved public broadcasting

And in perhaps one of his greatest and most iconic moments, Fred Rogers travelled to Congress, for the purpose of testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications to defend $20 million in federal funding proposed to go towards public broadcasting. Within the span of about 6 minutes, Rogers convinces a hostile senator of the value of public broadcast - and once again proved himself to just be way too darn perfect.




The best, most insightful, most heartbreakingly wonderful Mr. Rogers stories ever told

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I'll leave you with one final story about Mr. Rogers, because dear lord this Earth has never had anyone so pure and good before:

Once upon a time, there was a boy who didn't like himself very much. It was not his fault. He was born with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is something that happens to the brain. It means that you can think but sometimes can't walk, or even talk. This boy had a very bad case of cerebral palsy, and when he was still a little boy, some of the people entrusted to take care of him took advantage of him instead and did things to him that made him think that he was a very bad little boy, because only a bad little boy would have to live with the things he had to live with. In fact, when the little boy grew up to be a teenager, he would get so mad at himself that he would hit himself, hard, with his own fists and tell his mother, on the computer he used for a mouth, that he didn't want to live anymore, for he was sure that God didn't like what was inside him any more than he did. He had always loved Mister Rogers, though, and now, even when he was fourteen years old, he watched the Neighborhood whenever it was on, and the boy's mother sometimes thought that Mister Rogers was keeping her son alive. She and the boy lived together in a city in California, and although she wanted very much for her son to meet Mister Rogers, she knew that he was far too disabled to travel all the way to Pittsburgh, so she figured he would never meet his hero, until one day she learned through a special foundation designed to help children like her son that Mister Rogers was coming to California and that after he visited the gorilla named Koko, he was coming to meet her son.

At first, the boy was made very nervous by the thought that Mister Rogers was visiting him. He was so nervous, in fact, that when Mister Rogers did visit, he got mad at himself and began hating himself and hitting himself, and his mother had to take him to another room and talk to him. Mister Rogers didn't leave, though. He wanted something from the boy, and Mister Rogers never leaves when he wants something from somebody. He just waited patiently, and when the boy came back, Mister Rogers talked to him, and then he made his request. He said, "I would like you to do something for me. Would you do something for me?" On his computer, the boy answered yes, of course, he would do anything for Mister Rogers, so then Mister Rogers said, "I would like you to pray for me. Will you pray for me?" And now the boy didn't know how to respond. He was thunderstruck. Thunderstruck means that you can't talk, because something has happened that's as sudden and as miraculous and maybe as scary as a bolt of lightning, and all you can do is listen to the rumble. The boy was thunderstruck because nobody had ever asked him for something like that, ever. The boy had always been prayed for. The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers, and although at first he didn't know if he could do it, he said he would, he said he'd try, and ever since then he keeps Mister Rogers in his prayers and doesn't talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figures Mister Rogers is close to God, and if Mister Rogers likes him, that must mean God likes him, too.

As for Mister Rogers himself ... well, he doesn't look at the story in the same way that the boy did or that I did. In fact, when Mister Rogers first told me the story, I complimented him on being so smart--for knowing that asking the boy for his prayers would make the boy feel better about himself--and Mister Rogers responded by looking at me at first with puzzlement and then with surprise. "Oh, heavens no, Tom! I didn't ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession."

via Tom Junod



A beloved public figure with no skeletons in their closet is honestly the most shocking revelation possible these days, and that was Fred Rogers. He was perfect - not only because he was good, but because he believed you were good, too.

The truth is that I'm barely scratching the surface here - he would visit sick children in hospitals, he wrote books about child care and development, he even MADE THE ENTIRE CONCEPT OF RECORDING TV SHOWS LEGAL. Yes, we owe DVR to Mr. Rogers. Is there anything he can't do?!

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