RIP Jerry Nelson: July 10, 1934 - August 23, 2012
Jerry Nelson, long time Muppeteer, who played a number of favourite characters, including Count von Count on Sesame Street and Gobo Fraggle on Fraggle Rock, has died. He was 78.
Nelson’s most famous puppet character was, perhaps, Count Von Count, the Sesame Street citizen who teaches children how to count. As well, he gave life to Mr. Snuffleupagus, Herbert Birdsfoot, Sherlock Hemlock, Herry Monster and a wide array of supporting one-shot characters. He also played Gobo Fraggle, the leader of the colourful band of creatures featured on the live-action TV series Fraggle Rock.
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, boomerang fish flinging Lew Zealand, Kermit the Frog’s nephew Robin and Gonzo’s girlfriend Camilla the Chicken.
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and raised in Washington, D.C., Nelson first began working with American puppeteer Bil Baird, who created the marionette sequence for The Sound of Music.
He worked with Jim Henson on The Jimmy Dean Show in 1965, temporarily replacing Frank Oz, and worked with The Muppets off and on throughout the 1960s.
Beginning in the 1970s, he worked full-time on Sesame Street and became involved with productions such as 1979’s The Muppet Movie and 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper.
In 2004, Nelson announced he would no longer be operating puppets for The Muppets. However, he continued to do voice work on Sesame Street and portrayed the announcer on some Muppet productions. He continued to voice the Count up until his death.
In 2009 he wrote about his experiences, for Sesame Street’s 40th Anniversary:
“My grandparents used to give me a quarter to learn and sing songs when I was a sprout about five years old. “South of the Border” was maybe the first of a long list of tunes and I’m still learning them and singing them and will until the day I die. I don’t know if they knew the extent of what they were doing and how they were prepping me to have a way to get along in the world, but I like to think so.
I guess everything you observe and do and experience in life adds to that oneness that makes each of us so unique and at the same time makes us an everyman that shares the human condition in the most fundamental ways.
Working with The Henson Organization was like working with your family and when I started working on Sesame Street that was another extended family so now the family was immense. The idea behind this Sesame Street project was to use the tool of television to teach underprivileged preschool children, but what happened was that the show charmed, taught, and brought love and laughter into the hearts and minds of children and adults all over the world.
Chance, dumb luck or destiny? Who knows the controlling force that chooses where and how we find our lives manifest?
I can only say I have traveled through the breathtaking up and down melody of a lifetime that, I studied and trained for, wandered the paths of least resistance (following my water nature) to, and that I am either blessed and one of the luckiest bozos walking this planet or both.