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Joanne Rogers, widow of 'Mister Rogers' star Fred Rogers, dies at 92

Rogers carried on her late husband's legacy of promoting kindness and creating a better world for kids.
/ Source: TODAY

Joanne Rogers, the widow of television legend Fred Rogers, died Thursday at the age of 92. Fred Rogers Productions announced her passing in a statement.

"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," the statement read.

"Joanne was a brilliant and accomplished musician, a wonderful advocate for the arts, and a dear friend to everyone in our organization," it continued. "We extend our heartfelt condolences to Joanne’s family and the thousands of people who had the privilege of knowing and loving her."

Rogers married the "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" star in 1952 and remained with him for 50 years until his death in 2003 from stomach cancer. The couple shared two sons, James and John.

Joanne and Fred Rogers
Joanne and Fred Rogers were married for more than 50 years.Fred Rogers Productions

After her husband's death, Joanne Rogers carried on his legacy of promoting kindness and creating a happier and safer world for children.

She was as visible as ever in recent years, appearing in the 2018 documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" in which she shared candid and often hilarious memories of life with the legendary children's entertainer.

The documentary told the story of how the couple met at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where both studied music. An accomplished pianist, Rogers went on to earn a master's degree in music from Florida State University. Beginning in the early 1970s through the 2000s, she performed in hundreds of concerts in a musical duo with fellow Rollins College graduate Jeannine Morrison.

“She was always able to be Joanne Rogers as opposed to Mrs. Fred Rogers,” her son Jim Rogers told The New York Times in a 2019 interview. "She has always been her own person.”

U.S. Postal Service dedicates Mister Rogers forever stamp
Joanne Rogers attends the U.S. Postal Service dedication of the Mister Rogers forever stamp at WQED's Fred Rogers Studio in 2018 in PittsburghJason Merritt / Getty Images

In 2019, Joanne Rogers made a cameo appearance in the feature film "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," which starred Tom Hanks in an Oscar-nominated performance as her husband.

While helping to promote the movie in 2019, Rogers told NBC News that Fred Rogers would have been anguished by the country's angry political discourse in recent years. "One of the most important things to Fred was reconciliation. I think he would be appalled," she said, adding, "I am appalled."

Though many thought of Fred Rogers as a saintly figure, Joanne Rogers believed it was necessary to correct them, said Marielle Heller, the director of "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."

"Joanne said something so profound to me, which we added almost verbatim in the movie," Heller recalled to NBC News. "She said, 'Listen, it’s important for you to know that he was not a saint. Because if you think of him as a saint, then his message is unattainable.'

"When she said that to me, it clicked for me ... all of us could be kind. The person who takes the mantle, the person to pass the torch to, was all of us."