Lloyd Morrisettthe co-creator of the popular educational children’s show “sesame street”, which uses empathy and plush beings like Abby Cadabby, Elmo and Cookie Monster to charm and teach generations of children around the world, has died. She was 93 years old.
Morrisett’s death was announced Tuesday by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization he helped establish as the Children’s Television Workshop. Her cause of death was not disclosed.
In a statement, Sesame Workshop hailed Morrisett as a “wise, thoughtful and above 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 unique approach to the educational program that now reaches an estimated 120 million children in the United States. Legendary puppeteer Jim Henson was tasked with providing the show’s cuddly fluffy creatures.
“sesame street” (whose Latin American version is “Plaza Sésamo”) is broadcast in more than 150 countries and has been awarded 193 Emmy awards, 10 Grammys and in 2019 received the Kennedy Center medal for artistic career, it is the first program to have received this recognition, at the ceremony Big Bird walked down an aisle and basically sat on Tom Hanks’ lap.
Morrisett was born in Oklahoma City in 1929, initially studying to be a teacher with a background in psychology. He became an experimental educator, looking for new ways to teach children from disadvantaged backgrounds. He graduated from Oberlin College and did a graduate degree in psychology at UCLA, and received his Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Yale University. He was a board member of Oberlin for many years and chairman of the board from 1975 to 1981.
The idea of ”sesame street” came about during a party in 1966, where he met Cooney.
“I said, ‘Joan, do you think television can be used to educate children?’ Her response was ‘I don’t know, but I’d like to talk about it,’” she told The Guardian in 2004.
The first episode of “sesame street” — in which the letters W, S and E were taught as well as the numbers 2 and 3 — was broadcast at the end of 1969. It was a turbulent time in the United States, affected by the Vietnam War and a year after the assassination of the reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
Children’s programming at the time featured content like “Captain Kangaroo,” “Romper Room” and the often-violent cartoons “Tom & Jerry” while “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” primarily taught children social skills.
“sesame street” was designed by educational professionals and psychologists specialized in minors with one goal, to help low-income students and minority groups from 2 to 5 years old to overcome some of the deficiencies they had when they entered elementary school. For years before the show’s premiere, social scientists had pointed out that white and higher-income children tended to be better prepared.
The show was set on the street in an urban neighborhood and had a multicultural cast. Diversity and inclusion were an important part of the show from its inception. Monsters, humans, and animals coexisted peacefully.
It became the first children’s show to have a character with Down syndrome. Over time she has also had puppets with HIV and in foster homes, has invited children in wheelchairs and dealt with issues such as parents in prison, homelessness, women’s rights, military families and even girls who sing about loving her hair.
He introduced Rosita, the show’s first Latino and bilingual Muppet, in 1991. Julia, a 4-year-old Muppet with autism, arrived in 2017 and since then the show has offered support for children whose parents are dealing with addiction and recovery or children suffering as a result of the war in Syria. To help children after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, the show featured Elmo traumatized by a store fire and being reassured by letting him know that the fire department was there to help him.
The company said after the news of Morrisett’s death that he left ‘a huge and indelible legacy among generations of children around the world,’sesame street‘ is just the most visible tribute to a lifetime of good work and lasting impact.”