“Dear Kamel, We like you just the way you are. Happy Birthday … Love Joanne and Fred.” So reads a handwritten card to Kamel Boutros from Fred and Joanne Rogers, written the year before Fred Rogers died suddenly from stomach cancer at age 74.

Boutros has boxes of letters from Rogers and cassettes of voicemails of Rogers calling to check in on him. He is one of many people Rogers, the iconic host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, befriended, mentored, and prayed for away from the cameras.

“I miss this man so much,” said Boutros upon finding the birthday card. “I cannot believe he was my friend!”

With the 50th anniversary of the television show this year, a major documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, debuts in theaters June 8 (see sidebar), and Tom Hanks will star in a film about Rogers, You Are My Friend, coming to theaters in October 2019.

The people Rogers took under his wing—even as he wrote and produced more than 1,000 episodes of his show over his career—still feel the effect of his love. In a media environment where scandal from public figures is the norm, Rogers remains untarnished by the scrutiny of retrospectives and interviews with those closest to him.

“Fred, he didn’t play a character,” said Boutros.

Rogers’ show, where he voiced the puppets and wrote the songs he sang, was one of the longest-running children’s shows on television ever. The premise was simple and low-production: Rogers walks into his house, changes jackets and shoes, and then spends several minutes talking about something very simple, like the concepts of “going” and “coming.”

 

Read more at World Mag.