"PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Fred Rogers, better known as television's "Mister Rogers," a cultural icon and kindly neighbor to generations of American children, died Thursday at the age of 74. Rogers died at his home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, after a brief battle with stomach cancer, according to a spokeswoman for his production company. David Newell, a Rogers family spokesman, told The Associated Press that Rogers was exactly as he appeared on TV. "He was so genuinely, genuinely kind, a wonderful person," said Newell, who played Mr. McFeely on the show. "His mission was to work with families and children for television. ... That was his passion, his mission, and he did it from Day One." Rogers began developing his ideas for children's programming in the 1950s. He is best known for "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," which began in its early form in 1963 as a show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Rogers took the idea to the United States and in 1967, the first "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" aired on Pittsburgh's WQED. A year later, PBS picked it up. The last original "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" aired in 2001, making it PBS's longest-running program ever. Rogers emphasized his advocacy for children in a 1993 speech, when he was honored for 25 years on the air nationally. "We have to remember to whom the airwaves belong, and we must put as great an emphasis on the nurturing of the human personality as we can," he said. More than entertainment Fred McFeely Rogers was born in 1928 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, 40 miles east of Pittsburgh. He studied music composition in college -- which helped him write songs for his show later -- and, in the 1950s, he worked as a puppeteer for "The Children's Corner," a show he and Josie Carey launched on WQED. Many of the characters who later appeared on "Neighborhood" were created on that show. In 1963, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister with a charge to continue his work with children and families through television. I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen," Fred Rogers once said. From the beginning, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" was deliberately simple and straightforward, marked by Rogers' purposeful actions and soothing voice. Every show he would enter his home in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, take off his jacket and shoes, and put on a sweater and comfortable footwear while offering a welcome for his viewers. The slow-paced show offered an alternate universe to most of today's quick-edit cartoon children's programming. On the eve of his final show, Rogers told CNN's Jeff Greenfield he looked at the program as more than entertainment; it was a chance to reach young people and give them a foundation for a good life. "I believe that those of us who are the producers and purveyors of television -- or video games or newspapers or any mass media -- I believe that we are the servants of this nation," Rogers said. That's why he got into television in the first place. "I got into television because I hated it so," he said. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen." Through the years, Rogers featured artists ranging from cellist Yo-Yo Ma to bodybuilder-actor Lou Ferrigno. He dealt with the death of pets and divorce, while teaching children to love themselves and others. During the Persian Gulf War, he made a series of public service announcements telling parents how to talk to their children about war. "Children aren't responsible for wars," he said. "The least and best we adults can do is to let our children know that we'll take good care of them no matter what." His recurring characters included Mr. McFeely and Lady Elaine Fairchilde, as well as puppets King Friday the Thirteenth, Daniel Striped Tiger and Curious X the Owl. 'I always thought I was a neighbor' Rogers received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bush in 2002. "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" won dozens of awards, including four Emmys and a lifetime achievement award. A cardigan sweater belonging to Rogers hangs in the Smithsonian. In 2002, President George W. Bush presented Rogers with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, recognizing his contribution to the well-being of children and a career in public television that demonstrated the importance of kindness, compassion and learning. Through it all, he maintained his down-to-earth, easygoing nature. "I have really never considered myself a TV star," he said in a 1995 interview. "I always thought I was a neighbor who just came in for a visit." It was that honesty that came through in his show. "I do think that young children can spot a phony a mile away," he said. Rogers also had a sense of humor about himself. He credited his mom for the fashion statement that says, more than anything else, "Won't you be my neighbor?" "My mother made a sweater a month for as many years as I knew her," Rogers said. "And every Christmas she would give this extended family of ours a sweater. "She would say, 'What kind do you all want next year?' " said Rogers. "She said, 'I know what kind you want, Freddy. You want the one with the zipper up the front.' " Then there was the endless parodies, most notably by comedian Eddie Murphy, who played his own version of Mister Rogers on "Saturday Night Live." Rogers knew for a fact that Murphy meant no harm with his humor. In fact, they met once. "He just put his arms around me and said, 'The real Mister Rogers,' " he said. Colleagues in shock Rogers made his last public appearance on January 1, 2003, when he served as a Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade, and tossed the coin for the Rose Bowl Game. She would say, 'I know what kind you want, Freddy. You want the one with the zipper up the front.' -- Fred Rogers on his mother, who made his sweaters Marisa Lynch, who has worked for Family Communications Inc. for nearly 20 years, said she was in shock at his death. "We just learned about his illness in January," she said. "Luckily, he didn't suffer." Staff members rushed into work around 2:20 a.m. after hearing that Rogers had passed away, Lynch said. "We're very loyal and dedicated," she said of the employees. Rogers' nonprofit production company, Family Communications Inc., released a statement after his death. "We are grateful for the many people, young and old, who have cared about his work over the years and who continue to appreciate 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' on PBS. We hope that you'll join us in celebrating his life by reflecting on his messages and taking them into your everyday lives." Rogers once said he hoped kids who watch "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" will take the show and its lessons with them as they grow into adults. "We all long to be lovable and capable of loving," he said. "And whatever we can do through the Neighborhood or anything else to reflect that and to encourage people to be in touch with that, then I think that's our ministry." Fred Rogers is survived by his wife Joanne Rogers, their two sons and two grandsons, according to his Web site."