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Why Bob From ‘Sesame Street’ Mattered to Me and My Gen X Friends

By now you’ve probably heard that Bob McGrath, who played Bob Johnson on Sesame Street from 1969, passed away on Sunday at the age of 90. I didn’t need to know how to (“how do you get…”) to Sesame Street in a long time. But as Gen Xer, part of the very first generation raised on Sesame Street, I find it heartbreakingly sad to think about a world without Bob in it.

When the show first aired on November 10, 1969, I was almost 2, so while I don’t exactly remember seeing the first season, I was glued to the set shortly after. Gordon (then played by Matt Robinson, father of actress Holly Robinson Peete) was my first childhood sweetheart. My only niece, a little younger than me, Erin, chose Bob for hers. I seem to remember that we carefully selected several Sesame Streeters so that there would be no envy under our roof.

I chose to study Spanish in high school because Sesame Street introduced me to basic vocabulary. I took an autograph book to my grocery store because Mr. Hooper was such a part of Sesame’s life that it certainly seemed like my own grocer would be just as kind. (PS, I broke up with you and didn’t ask for autographs.)

My street was nothing like Sesame Street, an urban, diverse New York street teeming with life and bustle. I lived in a quiet lakeside suburb of the Second Stake in Minnesota where the only diversity was German-Irish versus Swedish-Norwegian. You needed a car to get anywhere near me. There was no walk to Mr. Hooper’s store or Luis’ Fix-It Shop. Sesame Street, with its kind, friendly people, wacky Muppets, and entertaining but educational sketches of subways and skyscrapers, might as well have been the moon. But thanks to cast members like Bob, it was a moon we loved to visit.

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Bob himself may not have been my crush, but Erin did well to choose him over hers. He was a trained musician, and his voice carried a musical softness that you hear in certain people — Fred Rogers, Pete Seeger, John Denver — that makes you naturally trust them. Gentle as he was, Bob had a big job on his shoulders. Bob and the other Sesame Streeters taught us letters and numbers and told Cookie Monster to eat an apple once in a while. When Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper, died in 1982, Bob helped teach a grieving young audience how to cope with loss.

I actually had to look up the facts about his character – Bob Johnson was said to be a music teacher who lived with his cat, in an apartment above Hooper’s shop. He didn’t own a business, like Luis, and wasn’t part of a couple, like Gordon and Susan.

But maybe his character didn’t need to be special because it’s real Bob used to be his character. Like Fred Rogers, you immediately believed he was the person he played, good, kind and reliable, a safe place for children who may not have that at home.

Generation X is still often forgotten, but if ever there was a group of kids who could have used a father figure like Bob, it was us. I have written two books on Gen X memories, and I know growing up was fraught with challenges for many of my peers. Divorce, drug use, domestic violence – not everyone had a sunny upbringing like Brady Bunch. Escaping to a place like Sesame Street was priceless.

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I never knew anything about Bob’s life off stage. (It turned out, as one would expect, that he had been happily married to his wife Ann since 1958 and had five children and numerous grandchildren.) Somehow it was a relief to read the memories shared by his friends and castmates after his death and discovering that no one had anything bad to say about him. He had a Facebook page and there, too, he was always smiling, celebrating friends’ birthdays, sharing holiday snaps.

Emilio Delgado, who played Luis on Sesame Street, died in March. Bob then remembered him in a Touch Facebook message. The words he spoke about his dead friend could have been said about Bob himself.

“As sad as we are to lose our dear friend Emilio,” wrote Bob, “thinking of his love for life and all the joy he brought to the lives of so many adults and children is the best way I can think of to honor him.” is to remember what he believed. Life is a gift to be enjoyed together.”

If life is a gift, it will also be strengthened along the way by those strong enough to guide the younger generations. Thank you, Bob, and all the kind adults of Sesame Street, for being there when we needed you and sweeping away the clouds.

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