Lloyd Morrisett, the co-creator of the beloved children’s educational television series “Sesame Street,” which uses empathy and furry monsters like Abby Cadabby, Elmo and Cookie Monster to charm and teach generations around the world, has died. He was 93.
Morrisett’s death was announced Monday by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization he helped establish as the Children’s Television Workshop. No cause of death was given.
In a statement, Sesame Workshop praised Morrisett as a “wise, thoughtful, and most of all, kind leader” who was “constantly thinking of new ways” to educate.
Morrisett and Joan Ganz Cooney worked with Harvard University developmental psychologist Gerald Lesser to build the program’s unique teaching approach that now reaches 120 million children. Legendary puppeteer Jim Henson supplied the critters.
“Without Lloyd Morrisett, there would be no ‘Sesame Street.’ It was he who first came up with the idea of using television to teach preschoolers basic skills like letters and numbers,” Cooney said in a statement. “He was a trusted partner and loyal friend for more than 50 years, and We will miss him very much.”
“Sesame Street” is shown in more than 150 countries, has won 216 Emmy Awards, 11 Grammy Awards and in 2019 received the Kennedy Center Honor for Lifetime Achievement, the first time a television show has received the award (Big Bird walked the the hallway and basically sat on Tom Hanks’s lap).
Born in 1929 in Oklahoma City, Morrisett initially trained as a teacher with a background in psychology. He became an experimental educator looking for new ways to educate children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Morrisett received his undergraduate degree from Oberlin College, his BA in psychology from UCLA, and his Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Yale University. He was a trustee of Oberlin for many years and was chairman of the board from 1975 to 1981.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of “Sesame Street,” Jimmy Fallon and Tariq Trotter of The Roots perform a rap with Elmo, Big Bird and their friends.
The germ of “Sesame Street” was sown during a dinner in 1966, where he met Cooney.
“I said, ‘Joan, do you think television could be used to teach young children?’ Her response was: ‘I don’t know, but I’d like to talk about it,’” she recalled to The Guardian in 2004.
The first episode of “Sesame Street,” sponsored by the letters W, S, and E and the numbers 2 and 3, aired in the fall of 1969. It was a turbulent time in America, rocked by the Vietnam War and in the flesh. Live for murder. from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. the year before.
Children’s programming at the time consisted of shows like “Captain Kangaroo,” “Romper Room,” and the often violent cartoon skirmishes between “Tom and Jerry.” “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” was primarily teaching social skills.
“Sesame Street” was designed by educational professionals and child psychologists with one goal: to help minority and low-income students ages 2-5 overcome some of the shortcomings they had upon entering school. Social scientists had long noted that white children and children from higher-income families were often better prepared.
The show was set on an urban street with a multicultural cast. Diversity and inclusion were incorporated into the program. Monsters, humans, and animals lived together in peace.
It became the first children’s show to feature someone with Down syndrome. She’s had puppets with HIV and in foster care, invited kids in wheelchairs, tackled topics like incarcerated parents, the homeless, women’s rights, military families, and even girls singing about loving their hair.
She introduced the bilingual Rosita, the first Latina Muppet, in 1991. Julia, a 4-year-old Muppet with autism, arrived in 2017 and since then the show has offered help to children whose parents are dealing with addiction and recovery, as children suffering as a result of the Syrian civil war. Helping children after 9/11, Elmo was traumatized by a fire at Hooper’s store, but was gently told that the fire department was there to help him.
The company said after news of his death that Lloyd left “a huge and indelible legacy among generations of children around the world, with ‘Sesame Street’ just the most visible tribute to a lifetime of good work and lasting impact.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits