Mister Rogers’ wife Joanne has died at the age of 92, it was announced on Thursday.
Joanne, a classical pianist, had been married to Fred Rogers for 50 years before the star of PBS’ Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood died aged 74 in 2003.
Her death was confirmed by the Fred Rogers Productions and the McFeely-Rogers Foundation.
They tweeted: ‘Fred Rogers Productions is deeply saddened by the passing of Joanne Rogers. The loving partner of Fred Rogers for more than 50 years, she continued their shared commitment to supporting children and families after his death as chair of the board of Fred Rogers Productions.
‘Joanne was a brilliant and accomplished musician, a wonderful advocate for the arts, and a dear friend to everyone in our organization.
‘We extend our heartfelt condolences to Joanne’s family and the thousands of people who had the privilege of knowing and loving her.’
Mister Rogers’ wife Joanne has died at the age of 92, it was announced Thursday
The couple had been married for 50 years before Fred, the star of PBS’ Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, died aged 74 in 2003
Joanne said of the 2019 movie of her husband’s life: ‘I loved it. I think Tom is a genius, almost’
It is understood she had been hospitalized for several days. Her cause of death is unknown.
One of the last times she was seen in public was in September, when she was FaceTimed by Joe Biden – like her husband, from Pennsylvania – on the campaign trail.
Biden later tweeted: ‘A few weeks ago, I spoke to Mr. Rogers’ wife Joanne when I was in her neighborhood in Pittsburgh. It was a great conversation.
‘Friendship, empathy, kindness, and compassion — I think we could all learn a thing or two from her and her husband’s example.’
When Donald Trump held a campaign rally in Fred Rogers’ hometown of Larobe, Joanne was unimpressed.
‘I think he’s just a horrible person,’ she told The Daily Beast at the time.
Asked why she disliked the president, she replied: ‘I think maybe the fact that Mr Trump seldom tells the truth.
‘If he does, it’s just a fluke, I think. But the fact [is] that I can’t believe anything he says, not even the simplest thing.
‘This man is pathologically ill. Mentally ill.’
She said her husband steered clear of politics, for fear it would complicate the lives of children at home.
‘Fred tried to stay pretty quiet about politics, basically because his program was for children,’ she said.
‘I’m alone now. I don’t do a program for children.’
She said she would go into ‘mourning’ if Trump was re-elected, adding: ‘I am a very big Biden fan.
‘I think he’s kind.
‘I think we all need somebody like Biden who can give us little pats on the back.’
Beloved children’s television host Mister Rogers was played by Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood in 2019. The part of Joanne was given to actress Maryann Plunkett.
Joanne said of the movie: ‘I loved it. I think Tom is a genius, almost. I want to give credit — Tom Hanks has gotten lots and lots of good press and he deserves every bit of it.’
Bill Isler, former president and CEO of Fred’s company, said in 2019: ‘When Fred died, she wasn’t going to step in to be Mister Rogers, but she was going to step in.’
Fred Rogers was from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and created and hosted his show in Pittsburgh.
The City of Pittsburgh tweeted Thursday: ‘One of #Pittsburgh’s favorite neighbors. Joanne & Fred forever changed our city. Thank you for your dedication to our children, & our community.’
Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh, praised her ‘grace, humor and down-to-earth demeanor.’
He said: ‘Joanne Rogers personified what we love about the City of Pittsburgh.
‘As the partner of Fred Rogers for a half-century she helped champion his good works to a global audience, and remained committed to his vision and to this city after his passing.
‘She was always there when we needed her. I and countless others, from every walk of life, were humbled to call her a friend.’
The governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, said Joanne and Fred were ‘treasures’.
‘We will never forget their legacy of kindness,’ he said.
Josh Shapiro, the attorney general of Pennsylvania, said: ‘Mr. Rogers helped raise me.
‘His teachings of kindness and love shaped us all for the better — and I know that he learned so much of that kindness and love from his wife Joanne.
‘Thank you, Mrs. Rogers. May your memory be a blessing.’
Local reporter David Johnson, with WXPI, tweeted: ‘So sorry to hear of the passing of Joanne Rogers, Mr Rogers’ widow.
‘She always had a smile on her face and a laugh on her lips.
‘I interviewed her many times and always felt she looked like my own mother. She carried Fred’s torch of love and kindness. RIP Joanne Rogers.’
In November 2019, following the release of the Tom Hanks film, Joanne explained why she felt her late husband had had such an impact.
‘People were important to him,’ she told PEOPLE.
‘He was to me and to the family who he is to everybody else.
‘If Fred found out a friend was ill, he would make regular calls and visit,’ she recalled.
‘When a high school friend in South Carolina had cancer, Fred went, even though he had hurt his ankle and was on crutches. It was very important to Fred to be there.’
Joanne was given the George Romero Legacy Award at Steeltown Entertainment’s Elly Awards in 2019.
Joanne Rogers, pictured in June 2017, met Fred while attending Rollins College in Florida
Joanne Rogers on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood show in 1975
Joanne was born as Sara Joanne Byrd in Jacksonville, Florida in 1928.
She learned to play the piano at the age of five when a friend introduced her to a piano instructor, and the meeting sparked a lifelong passion.
Joanne Rogers attends the U.S. Postal Service Dedication of the Mister Rogers Forever Stamp at WQED’s Fred Rogers Studio on March 23, 2018 in Pittsburgh
She earnt a scholarship to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where she met Fred – a Dartmouth College graduate.
The pair bonded over a love of music.
‘Fred was a really really fine musician,’ she said.
‘It was part of him. It was maybe the most important part of him, was his music.’
She added: ‘Music meant a lot to both of us, we had that in common and we talked often of, ‘How do people live without music?”
Despite her husband’s fame, Joanne managed to chart her own highly successful course.
The couple married in 1952 and had two sons – James Byrd Rogers and John Rogers – and three grandchildren.
While he was filming Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran from 1968 to 2001, she was traveling the country as a concert pianist with her friend Jeannine Morrison, who she had met at Rollins College.
Fred and Joanne Rogers were married for 50 years and had two sons and three grandchildren
In the early 1970s, Joanne performed as a duo with Morrison, telling The New York Times: ‘Over the next 36 years we played over 300 concerts.’
The close friends ended up recording their duets, releasing two albums: ‘Duo – Piano Favorites’ and ‘A Virtuoso Duo-Piano Showcase.’
Joanne eventually quit performing in part due to her arthritis, her son John told the publication.
She would often enjoy performances by her friends Emmanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma.
Her older son, Jim, told the newspaper: ‘She was always able to be Joanne Rogers as opposed to Mrs Fred Rogers.
‘She has always been her own person.’