I first saw "Mr. Wizard" on TV at a friend's house in, I guess this was like 1985, and she told me that this was a guy who had been on TV when her dad was our age. And from the moment I saw him I thought that Don Herbert was cool! Ya see, I've always been a geek for science, but about the ages of 8 to 13 I was uber-geek for science. Don Herbert was like the first person I ever saw on television that I felt I could understand and that he could understand me on that level.
But I think the big part of the magic of Don Herbert that even though he knew all this stuff about science, he never "spoke down" to you. He made science so that anyone could understand and feel proud for learning about it. And he was exceedingly humble about himself too. He never used his awesome power pretentiously. There's a famous story about one experiment he was trying to do during his first show back in the Fifties and how, for some reason, it just wouldn't work. "Well kids we'll just try again tomorrow!" he told his audience. The next day, it still didn't work. I think he kept at it four or five times before it finally worked. The whole time, Herbert didn't lose his cool, he just kept rolling and laughing and smiling about it.
Then some years later after first finding out about him, when I was in high school, there used to be these little vignettes of science that he would do that were syndicated to local shows throughout the country and The Good Morning Show on WFMY happened to run them while I was getting ready for school. It was like 15 years ago that I last saw Don Herbert on television. And then a few years after that I'd heard that he was no longer with us. Except it turns out that he was still very much with us.
Don Herbert, known to generations of viewers as "Mr. Wizard", passed away yesterday at the age of 89. For real. The cause of death was bone cancer.
I didn't know this until I read the article, but Don Herbert was one of the guests on the very first show of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC in 1982. That by itself should say something about how neat this guy was.
Rest in peace, Mr. Wizard. And for all the wonderment that you brought to so many of us over the years, thank you.