Tom Hanks movie role inspiration comes from Madison man

MADISON, Wis (WMTV) -- A Madison man's courageous story inspires movie star Tom Hanks to take on his newest role in "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."

Jeffrey Erlanger died in 2007. but was famously featured on "Mister Rogers’ neighborhood" decades ago. Actor Tom Hanks said Erlanger's story inspired him to play the role of Mister Rogers.

Howard Erlanger, Jeffrey’s father, said when he heard the news he was in awe.

“I remember him as just this bundle of energy and someone with an incredibly positive outlook," Howard said.

Howard turns back the clock and flips through pages of time to remember his son, Jeffrey, who was defying odds since the day he was born.

“He was a quadriplegic since birth. It was all borrowed time. It was all just a magical experience to watch him grow up," Howard said.

He saw him achieve more in 35 years than some do in a lifetime.

Jeffrey was an activist. He fought for people with disabilities and was committed to positive social change. He inspired those around him from a young age.

In 1981, 10-year-old Jeffrey took a trip to the "neighborhood" with Mister Rogers.

"It was so amazing about both of them. It was unscripted, unrehearsed, but they showed was uncut. It was 8-10 minutes of these two people talking and making a connection with each other," Howard said.

This emotional moment inspired Tom Hanks to take on the role as Mister Rogers, according to a Vanity Fair article.

"In one sense, it's not surprising because we've heard so many comments about that, people who have seen the episode, which really is a special thing, and it's hard to come away from that," Howard said.

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

"He was actually one of the people who inspired me to do more work and be more involved in city government to make a difference," Shiva Bidar, city council president said.

The "Jeffrey Clay Erlanger Civility in Public Discourse" award exists to honor Madison residents who are dedicated and passionate about civil rights.

This chapter of Jeffrey’s life may be closed, but Howard said his legacy lives on.

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

For the first time, the winner of the Erlanger award and the person who nominated them will have the opportunity to choose a non-profit charity to receive $250. Click here for details.