Whatever Happened To Mister Hooper From Sesame Street?

One of the first things kids watch is Sesame Street. It's the show that helps reinforce stuff you learn in school, but it also teaches kids some important life lessons. If you were a kid in 1983, you might have seen a special episode of Sesame Street.

Will Lee, the actor who played kindly grocery store owner Mr. Hooper, had died in December 1982. The show's producers were left with a conundrum: How do they address Mr. Hooper's absence from the show to the children who depend on seeing him there? Lee had been with the show since it started in 1969, and as Mental Floss explained, most children's shows don't last as long and have never had to explain the death of any character.

The producers went through several options, reported A.V. Club. Option one was to say Mr. Hooper retired and moved to Florida. Another possibility was to replace the actor, precisely as other shows did when actors left the show. Or three, simply ignore his absence. But one producer offered another solution. Kids will notice Mr. Hooper is gone, so why not figure out the best way to talk to children about death? Sesame Street, after all, is a show that helps children make sense of their world. And they would be remiss if they did not address a very normal, but sad, part of life.

The episode respected children's very valid feelings

The producers of Sesame Street did their research, according to A.V. Club. They interviewed child psychologists to help boil down specific emotions children feel when going through a grieving process. One of the producers told The New York Times the episode's broadcast day, Thanksgiving 1983, was specifically chosen because families are together and parents can answer questions from the kids.

And so "Farewell Mr. Hooper" aired and centered on the idea of emotions and grief. The characters all experience a mixture of big feelings related to grieving: sadness, anger, confusion, love, and even happiness. Different characters are shown expressing these emotions. Forgetful Jones is happy, but he doesn't know why. Bert loses his paperclip collection so he's both angry and sad, and Ernie performs in a pageant for love. To show the circle of life, Big Bird even meets a new baby. Mental Floss pointed out Big Bird, who was close to Mr. Hooper, often forgot that his friend was no longer in the neighborhood, which is also common with kids. So the adult characters all struggled to explain that death is permanent.

The episode was groundbreaking, and to this day is remembered as one of the most poignant children's show episodes ever made. And to celebrate and remember Mr. Hooper, Big Bird hung his picture of Mr. Hooper in the store. The photo remains on set to this day.