Beautiful Day

Mr. Rogers’ longtime gay co-star calls him “the love of my spiritual life”

Francois Clemmons. Via Wikimedia Commons

Francois Clemmons, best known as Officer Clemmons on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, has opened up about his relationship with his longtime co-star, detailing the love between the two.

Clemmons will publish a memoir entitled Officer Clemmons on May 5, detailing the working relationship between the two. In a new interview with People, Clemmons offered a preview of the book’s contents.

“I didn’t know what I was so hungry for, until I heard Fred Rogers say, ‘I love you,'” Clemmons says. “When I was growing up, men were rough and macho — you had to be a ‘man.’ I didn’t fit any of that.”

Clemmons, who is gay, met Rodgers at age 23 while studying at Carnegie Mellon University. Fred Rogers, then 43, invited him to join Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Officer Clemmons would appear on the show for the next two decades while also performing as an opera singer in various productions around the country. Clemmons’ role made him one of the first African-Americans with a recurring role on a children’s TV series.

Related: Marielle Heller director of ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ on the lessons of Mr. Rogers

In one landmark skit, he and Rogers wet their feet in a kiddie pool together. At the same time across the country, laws barring people of color from using the same swimming pools had come under fire. The pair enjoying the same pool sent a powerful if subtle, message to viewers about the ridiculousness of segregating swimming pools.

The long and affectionate relationship between Rogers and Clemmons would become something of “a marriage” according to the actor. “Fred never stopped listening and I never shut up,” Clemmons says. “He was the spiritual love of my life.”

Now, more than a decade after Rogers’ death in 2003, Clemmons says the two are closer than ever. “He is with me more than ever,” he says. “Fred doesn’t speak, but he lets me know. It’s quite sacred.”

Fred Rogers is considered something of an icon in the LGBTQ world for his all-inclusive message and encouraging people to be frank and honest with their feelings. Some observers have even labeled him “bisexual,” not because he had sex with other men, but because he never hesitated to show affection and sensitivity to other males.