I was in shock this morning when I read the news that puppeteer, Jerry Nelson had passed away. I knew his name because I knew the characters he brought to life. He taught me how to count. I still hear the “Ah-Ah-Ah” of The Count von Count every time I count slowly. His influence will never be forgotten. RIP Jerry and thank you for teaching me.
According to Wikipedia.com:
Jerry Nelson (July 10, 1934 – August 23, 2012) was an American puppeteer, best known for his work with The Muppets. Renowned for his wide range of characters and singing abilities, he performed Muppet characters on Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, and various Muppet movies and specials.
After learning that the Muppets were used on Sesame Street, he rejoined Henson and Oz as a puppeteer, beginning in the second season. He received a number of his major characters early in the show’s run, including the Sherlock Holmes parody Sherlock Hemlock (1970–1995, 2010), a hapless magician named The Amazing Mumford (1971–2012), and the overly strong but sensitive Herry Monster (1970–2012). His most famous character is the arithmomaniac vampire Count von Count (1972–2012).
He was also the first puppeteer to perform Mr. Snuffleupagus, keeping the role from 1971 to 1978. Most sources (including Sesame Street Unpaved and Sesame Street: A Celebration – 40 Years of Life on the Street) state that back problems caused by the physical stress of the performance forced him to bow out, but in a 2009 interview Jerry Nelson gave a different explanation for giving up the role: “I was not loathed to give that character up. But the reasons for giving it up were because at that time we were doing The Muppet Show and he was a real part of the show, and they needed his presence. So they asked if I’d mind giving it up.”.Minor recurring characters include educator Herbert Birdsfoot (1970–1973), the sound-mimicking Simon Soundman (1971–1992), the more frightening-looking monster Frazzle (1971–2012), Grover’s customer Mr. Johnson (1971–2012), Little Jerry of the band “Little Jerry and the Monotones” (1970–2000) and most of the announcers that appear in Sesame Street sketches (1970–2012). Jerry Nelson also made a cameo appearance as the giant in the “Sesame Street News” story of Jack and the Beanstalk.
When Richard Hunt joined the Muppets, he was only 18, so Nelson acted as a mentor to him. The two quickly became a powerful puppeteer team, performing such characters together as Sully and Biff (1972-ca. 1999) and The Two Headed Monster (1978–2002). David Rudman took over Hunt’s halves of these duos following his death.
Nelson also performed many characters on The Muppet Show, including Sgt. Floyd Pepper (the bassist of the Electric Mayhem band), Pigs in Space star Dr. Julius Strangepork, the boomerang fish-throwing Lew Zealand, Kermit the Frog’s nephew Robin the Frog, Gonzo’s girlfriend Camilla the Chicken, and the Phantom of the Muppet Show, Uncle Deadly. Nelson’s Muppets on The Muppet Show were all only supporting roles, but they did occasionally play a central role in an episode’s plot.
Less prominent characters on the show include sportscaster Lewis Kazagger, Pops the doorman, gossip columnist Fleet Scribbler, and Scooter’s uncle J.P. Grosse who owned the theatre. He performed Statler in the pilot episodes, but dropped the role when he could not perform full time on the first season. He was, however, a full-time performer for the rest of the show’s run. Nelson was selected to play Statler after Richard Hunt’s passing. He originated the role of Fozzie Bear’s mother in the special A Muppet Family Christmas, and reprised it years later for The Muppets at Walt Disney World.
Nelson performed the puppet and voice of Emmet in Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, and one-hour special that originally aired on HBO. He later performed the signature song from that show, “When the River Meets the Sea,” as Robin in a duet with John Denver for a Muppet Christmas special. That version of the song gets frequent radio airplay during the Christmas season (although the song is not seasonal).
On Fraggle Rock he performed Gobo Fraggle, Pa Gorg and Marjory the Trash Heap. Frank Oz did not perform on Fraggle Rock, and Jim Henson and Richard Hunt limited their time on the show, so they performed supporting characters. For this reason, Nelson was asked to perform Gobo, the central role on the show.
Nelson’s characters were often singers or musicians. He performed the lead vocalist for many songs as Floyd of the Electric Mayhem, Little Jerry of Little Jerry and the Monotones, Slim Wilson of Lubbock Lou and his Jughuggers, and a number of Anything Muppet bands. Most of his main characters in all three shows sang songs at one time or another.
Nelson has also performed character voices in Sesame Street cartoons and Private Public from Sheep in the Big City.
He reprised the role of the announcer in The Muppets. His final performance as the said announcer was part of the Jim Henson’s Musical World concert at Carnegie Hall.
Jerry Nelson passed away on August 23, 2012 of complications from the various cancers and respiratory diseases from which he suffered in his final years.