Lloyd Morrisett, the co-creator of the popular parenting TV series Sesame Street, which uses empathy and fuzzy monsters like Abby Cadabby, Elmo and Cookie Monster to charm and educate generations around the world, has died. He was 93.
Morrisett’s death was announced Tuesday by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit he founded called Children’s Television Workshop. No cause of death was given.
In a statement, Sesame Workshop praised Morrisett as a “wise, thoughtful, and most importantly, kind leader” who is “constantly thinking of new ways” to educate.
Morrisett and Joan Ganz Cooney worked with Harvard University developmental psychologist Gerald Lesser to develop the show’s unique teaching approach, which now reaches 120 million children. Legendary puppeteer Jim Henson provided the animals.
“Sesame Street” is shown in more than 150 countries, has won 216 Emmys and 11 Grammys, and received the 2019 Kennedy Center Honor for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, the first time a television show has received the award (Big Bird strolled down the aisle and in the Grund sat on Tom Hank’s lap).
Born on January 23, 1929 in Oklahoma City, Morrisett initially trained to be a teacher with a background in psychology. He became an experimental educator and sought new ways to educate children from less privileged backgrounds. Morrisett received his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College, a degree in psychology from UCLA and a doctorate in experimental psychology from Yale University. He was Oberlin trustee for many years and from 1975 to 1981 chairman of the board.
The seed of “Sesame Street” was sown in 1966 at a dinner party where he met Cooney.
“I said, ‘Joan, do you think television could be used to teach little kids?’ Her response was, ‘I don’t know, but I’d like to talk about it,'” he 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 raw by the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and US Senator Robert F. Kennedy 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 & Jerry. “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” primarily conveyed social skills.
Sesame Street was created by education experts and child psychologists with one goal: to help low-income and minority students, ages 2-5, overcome some of the deficiencies they had when they entered school. Social scientists had long noted that children who were white and came from higher-income families were often better prepared.
The show was set on an urban street with a multicultural cast. Diversity and inclusion were baked into the show. Monsters, humans and animals lived peacefully together.
It was the first children’s program to feature someone with Down syndrome. It had dolls with HIV and in foster care, invited children in wheelchairs, covered issues like incarcerated parents, homelessness, women’s rights, military families and even girls singing about loving their hair.
The bilingual Rosita – the first Latina Muppet – was introduced in 1991. Julia, a 4-year-old Muppet with autism, arrived in 2017 and the show has since provided support for children whose parents are dealing with addiction and recovery, and for children suffering as a result of the Syrian civil war. To help children after 9/11, Elmo was traumatized by a fire at Hooper’s store, but was reassured that the fire department was there to help.
The company said following news of his death that Lloyd “left an outsized and indelible legacy among generations of children around the world, with ‘Sesame Street’ being just the most visible tribute to a life of good work and lasting impact.”
https://www.latimes.com/obituaries/story/2023-01-25/lloyd-morrisett-co-creator-of-beloved-tv-series-sesame-street-dies Lloyd Morrisett, co-creator of popular TV series Sesame Street, has died