Fred Rogers - who was born 89 years ago today - became neighbors with people around the world as the host of the PBS children's show Mister Rogers Neighbourhood (1968-2001). For nearly half a century, Rogers donned his signature zippered cardigans and used music and puppetry to teach kids to love themselves and each other.
But there was a lot more to Fred Rogers than sweaters, songs and puppets. To celebrate his birthday, here are 10 things you might not know about Fred Rogers - the devout vegetarian who shunned alcohol and became the honorary captain of an NHL team.
1. Mr. Tee-Totaller
Mr. Rogers' straight-laced persona wasn't just a schtick for TV. He lived up to his clean image by never smoking or drinking in his life.
2. Part-Time Nudist
But Fred Rogers did have a wild side. He began every day by going for an early morning swim...in the nude. When Tom Junod of Esquire once bumped into a 70-year-old Rogers swimming in his birthday suit, Rogers said, "Well, Tom, I guess you've already gotten a deeper glimpse into my daily routine than most people have."
Rogers was a devout vegetarian. When asked about his diet, he often said, “I don’t want to eat anything that has a mother.” One of his favorite meals was tofu burgers with beets on the side.
Rogers banished desks from his office because he believed they created barriers between himself and visitors. Instead, he worked on a couch and crowded his room with armchairs.
No, he wasn't a calorie counter or an exercise fanatic. But Rogers loved that his weight remained a consistent 143 pounds, which he read as a secret, life-affirming message.
"The number 143 means 'I love you,'" he told Junod of Esquire. "It takes one letter to say 'I' and four letters to say 'love' and three letters to say 'you.' One hundred and forty-three. 'I love you.' Isn't that wonderful?"
6. He Hated One Thing - Television
A young Fred Rogers planned to enter seminary school and dedicate his life to religious ministry. But his career goals changed when he came home one day and saw that his parents had bought a television. Once he grasped the potential of TV, he decided to dedicate his life to using the medium for good.
"I got into television because I hated it so," he later told CNN. "And I thought there's some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen."
But he did go back and become ordained as a Presbyterian minister shortly after his TV career began.
Although Rogers was born and raised in Pennsylvania, his landmark show began in Canada. From 1961-67, he hosted the CBC children's show MisteRogers -- the precursor to 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.' Rogers enjoyed his time up north, but he and his wife decided to return to the States to be closer to family while raising their young children.
8. Reverend Thomas
Aside from voicing characters in The Neighborhood of Make-Believe, Rogers only played himself on TV - with one exception. On the Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman episode called Deal with the Devil (1997), Rogers played the devil.
Just kidding, he played the visiting minister Reverend Thomas.
Rogers also voiced himself on two episodes of the animated kids show 'Arthur'. And to fit in with the show's anthropomorphic cast, Rogers was drawn as a talking aardvark. Here's a clip from the 1997 episode 'Arthur Meets Mister Rogers'.
10. Captain Rogers
In 1991, the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins named picked Rogers as the team's 'celebrity captain.' Rogers skated onto the ice to receive the honor from the hockey club, who presented him with a special Penguins cardigan sweater.