The Reason Mister Rogers Was Very Particular About His Weight

Fred Rogers, the beloved television entertainer and icon, touched the lives of millions of children with his popular show, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. From the beginning of his career in 1951, to his death in 2003, Mister Rogers taught whole generations of children to believe that they were important and special, just the way they are. Parade compiled a list of 64 examples of things Mister Rogers said to help children feel good about themselves. "You are special. You're special to me. There's only one in this wonderful world," he said. And: "In a way, you've already won in this world because you're the only one who can be you." How could you not feel all warm and fuzzy inside after being told such nice things as that?

Rogers was widely admired, not only for his significant work with children, but for his displays of kindness toward everyone he encountered and for his quiet commitment to making the world a better place. Rogers showed compassion toward all living things, not just human beings. He was a strict vegetarian for reasons to do with animal welfare, and he also abstained from other vices like smoking, drinking, and sleeping in too late. Biography notes that he woke around 5:30 a.m. every day to pray, read the Bible, and swim laps before his workday began. Rogers was also very weight-conscious, but not for the reasons most people are.

Mister Rogers weighed 143 pounds

According to the Fred Rogers Center, he was overweight as a child, a factor which made him a target for his peers' bullying and teasing. He also suffered from asthma, which forced him to spend lots of summer days cooped up in his air-conditioned house, away from the industry-polluted air of West Pennsylvania. While that experience made him compassionate and empathetic towards the struggles of children, it wasn't what caused him to fixate on his weight as an adult.

Instead, Rogers focused on keeping his weight at a steady 143 pounds, because he believed that number displayed a special pattern that corresponded to the word "love." "Mister Rogers has come to see that number as a gift, as a destiny fulfilled, because, as he says, 'the number 143 means 'I love you.' 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?,'" Tom Junod reported in his 1998 Esquire profile of Mister Rogers.

Mister Rogers was so committed to this special number that he maintained the same weight for 30 years, weighing 143 pounds until his death at the age of 74, as noted by the Fred Rogers Center.

Mister Rogers' coded message to Mr. McFeely

Biography tells of an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in which he gave a special coded message to his "Speedy Delivery" Man, Mr. McFeely. Just as McFeely was about to leave, Mister Rogers gave him a note with the number 143 written on it. "This is a kind of code that we've just found out about," he said to his friend, then explained its meaning. The deliveryman was so pleased that he said he was going to take it home to his wife, Betsy. Rogers bid him a kind farewell: "143, Mr. McFeely. Thank you!"

Then he turned to the kids watching at home. "Explaining things is another way of saying, 'I love you,'" he said. "And coming back to visit each day is yet another way. Oh, there's so many ways, you'll find them. You'll find them as you grow. Many ways to say 143." And when he talked about those ways, he sure meant it. Little did his television audience know that Mister Rogers was so dedicated to living that "I love you" life that he didn't even sleep in or watch TV himself so that he could maintain that 143-pound figure to constantly tell the world he loved it.

Pennsylvania named May 23 143 Day in honor or Mister Rogers

"Imagine what our real neighbors would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person," Mister Rogers once said, and his home state of Pennsylvania has taken that message to heart. As CNN reported in 2019, Governor Tom Wolf declared May 23 — the 143rd day of the year — to be the Pennsylvania's "first statewide day of kindness." Wolf announced the establishment of 1-4-3 Day in a tweet, saying, "As governor, I've met countless Pennsylvanians. And I know we're genuinely nice people. Join me in spreading love today and seeing just how far a little kindness can go."

In a move that Mister Rogers would call love, Wolf explained to his fellow Pennsylvanians how to celebrate 1-4-3 Day with a three-step infographic. He invited his constituents to embrace Mister Rogers' spirit of kindness, to perform acts of kindness for their neighbors, and to help spread the love on social media with the hashtag #143DayInPA. So you may not weigh a teensy 143 pounds, but you can still spread Mister Rogers' message of love and kindness next May 23 (or better yet, any day of the year). As the cardiganed man himself would say: "There are many ways to say I love you."