Joanne Rogers, the widow of the beloved Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood star Fred Rogers, died on Thursday at 92. Rogers and Fred were married for 50 years until his death in 2003, and she oversaw his image following his death. Fred Rogers Productions and the McFeely-Rogers Foundation confirmed Rogers' death in a statement to KDKA in Pittsburgh. David Newell, who starred as Mr. McFeely on Mr. Rogers, told WTAE that Rogers was hospitalized for several days before her death.
"Fred Rogers Productions is deeply saddened by the passing of Joanne Rogers," the statement reads. "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."
Rogers and Fred met when he attended Rollins College in Florida. They married in 1952 and had two sons, James and John. After Fred died from stomach cancer in 2003, Joanne promoted his legacy. In 2019, she received the George Romero Legacy Award at Steeltown Entertainment's 2019 Elly Awards.
Rogers recently praised Tom Hanks for his Oscar-nominated portrayal of her late husband in 2019's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. "I loved it," she said. "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." In the film, Maryann Plunkett played Rogers, who also had a small cameo as an extra.
Last year, after President Donald Trump hosted a rally in Pennsylvania, Rogers told the Daily Beast Trump is "just a horrible person" and she would "feel so badly" if Trump won another term. Trump inspired Joanne to be more political than ever and threw her support behind now-President-elect Joe Biden. "Seventy-seven seems still pretty young to me," she joked of Biden's age.
In a November 2019 interview with The New York Times, Rogers' sons pointed out their mother's own achievements. She was a classically trained pianist who performed across the country. Rogers was in a duo with Jeannine Morrison, whom she also met at Rollins College. "She was always able to be Joanne Rogers as opposed to Mrs. Fred Rogers," Jim Rogers told the Times. "She has always been her own person."