‘His life expectancy was short:’ Madison man inspired Tom Hanks to take on role of Mister Rogers

MADISON -- A Madison man's courageous story inspired movie star Tom Hanks to take on the role of Mister Rogers in "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." Jeffrey Erlanger died in 2007, but was famously featured on Mister Rogers Neighborhood in 1981.

"I remember him as just this bundle of energy," said Howard Erlanger, Jeffrey's father, told WMTV in Madison.

Howard Erlanger said his son defied the odds from birth.

"Originally, people said his life expectancy was very short," said Howard Erlanger. "He was a quadriplegic since birth. It was all borrowed time. It was all just a magical experience to watch him grow up."

Jeffrey Erlanger achieved more in 35 years than some do in a lifetime. He was an activist who fought for those with disabilities. He was committed to positive social change, inspiring those around him from a young age.

When he was 10, he took a trip to the neighborhood with Mr. Rogers.

"It was like, eight or 10 minutes of just, these two people talking who made a connection with each other," said Howard Erlanger.

That emotional moment inspired Hanks to take on the role of Mister Rogers.

The inspiration doesn't stop in Hollywood. Madison City Council members who worked with Jeffrey Erlanger said his positive attitude was contagious.

"He was actually really one of the people who inspired me to continue to do more work and be more involved," said Shiva Bidar, Madison City Council president.

The Jeffrey Clay Erlanger Civility in Public Discourse Award honors Madison residents who are dedicated and passionate about civil rights.

Howard Erlanger said his son's legacy lives on in many ways.

"People will continue the Madison traditions of caring about other people and of advocating in a civil manner," said Howard Erlanger.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood hits theaters Nov. 22.

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