A quadriplegic from a young age following surgery for a spinal tumor, Mr. Erlanger appeared on the “Neighborhood” at age 10 (1981), but his relationship with Fred Rogers continued through the years. In 1999, he appeared at a Television Academy Hall of Fame induction ceremony as a guest, to surprise Mr. Rogers.
When Mr. Rogers saw him, the children’s show host leaped out of his seat and rushed to greet him on stage. The moment is included in the DVD, “Fred Rogers: America’s Favorite Neighbor.”
Mr. Erlanger, who became involved in politics in Madison and once chaired the city’s Commission on People with Disabilities, returned to Pittsburgh in May 2003 to remember his friendship with the TV host at Mr. Rogers’ public memorial service at Heinz Hall.
Even after Mr. Rogers’ death, Mr. Erlanger stayed in touch with the staff at Fred Rogers’ Oakland-based Family Communications Inc., including Hedda Sharapan, director of early childhood initiatives. She remembered Mr. Erlanger for “his buoyant personality, his spirit, his sense of humor. He was fun to be with and he wanted to help do good things in this world.”
The impression he made on Mr. Rogers was lasting.
“Anytime Fred was asked, ‘What was a moment that stands out?’ Over all those years, that was the one he pointed to,” Ms. Sharapan said of the unrehearsed, unscripted scene from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” “It was so authentic, just a conversation between two people who care about each other.”
Sadly, Jeff Erlanger passed away in 2007 at the age of 36. For more about Jeff, visit the links below: