Jerry Nelson

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This article is about the puppeteer. For the astronomer, see Jerry Nelson (astronomer).
Jerry Nelson
Jerry Nelson.jpg
Nelson in a Sesame Street publicity photograph from June 2012 shortly before his death. Here he is pictured with the Count.
Born Jerry L. Nelson
(1934-07-10)10 July 1934
Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
Died 23 August 2012(2012-08-23) (aged 78)
Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S.
Cause of death
Emphysema
Occupation Puppeteer, voice actor, singer
Years active 1965–2012
Spouse(s) Jan Nelson (1984–2012; his death)
Children 1

Jerry L. Nelson (10 July 1934 – 23 August 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.

Career[edit]

On Sesame Street, Nelson's longest-running character was Count von Count, the counting vampire who took delight in counting anything he could. Nelson did the voice and puppetry for the Count from 1972 until 2004, and continued to provide the Count's voice until his death. His other Muppet roles on that program were The Amazing Mumford, Herry Monster, Biff the Construction worker, Mr. Johnson, Simon Soundman, Mr. Chatterly, Frazzle and Sherlock Hemlock.

Nelson was 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 loath 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."[1]

He 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, one of the two hecklers Statler (whom he took over after the death of Richard Hunt), the mad pyrotechinst Crazy Harry, 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 a full-time performer for the rest of the show's run. Nelson was selected to play Statler after Richard Hunt's death. He originated the role of Fozzie Bear's mother in Series 2 of the Muppet Show and reprised the role over the years in such things as the special A Muppet Family Christmas, and The Muppets at Walt Disney World.

Nelson performed the puppet and voice of Emmet in Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, a 1-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 vocals 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.

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.[2] Archive audio of his announcer role was reused in Muppets Most Wanted, which was dedicated to both Nelson and Jane Henson, wife of Muppets' creator Jim Henson.

Nelson also performed the character voice of General Public in the Cartoon Network animated series Sheep in the Big City.

In December 2009, Nelson, who summered in Truro, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, released Truro Daydreams, an album of original songs.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Nelson had a daughter named Christine from his first marriage to Jacqueline Nelson Gordon. Christine had cystic fibrosis and died from the disease in 1982,[4] after attending Rye Country Day School. Caring for her limited Nelson's involvement in the The Muppet Show's first season. She made a cameo appearance in the second Muppet movie, The Great Muppet Caper. Nelson's friend and employer, Muppets creator Jim Henson, gave her a speaking part so that she would become a member of the actors' union.

In 2004, Nelson announced that he would no longer be puppeteering his Muppet characters, citing health reasons. However, he continued to voice his characters on Sesame Street until his death. Matt Vogel currently performs most of Nelson's Muppet characters. For example, he took over puppetry of Count von Count in 2004 (while Nelson continued to provide the voice for the character), and since Nelson's death, he began to supply the Count's voice as well. Also, Tyler Bunch has begun performing Herry Monster,[5] while John Tartaglia recently took over the role of Gobo Fraggle.[6]

Illness and death[edit]

Nelson suffered from prostate cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and emphysema.[7][8] For the last six years of his life, he required an oxygen tank to assist his breathing.[9] On August 23, 2012, he died at his Cape Cod home from complications of his illnesses.[10]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
None
Performer of Count von Count
1972 - 2012
Succeeded by
Matt Vogel
Preceded by
None
Performer of Robin the Frog
1971 - 2003
Succeeded by
Matt Vogel
Preceded by
None
Performer of Floyd Pepper
1975 - 2003
Succeeded by
Matt Vogel
Preceded by
John Lovelady
Performer of Crazy Harry
1978 - 2003
Succeeded by
Matt Vogel
Preceded by
None
Performer of Camilla the Chicken
1978 - 2003
Succeeded by
Matt Vogel
Preceded by
None
Performer of Lew Zealand
1978 - 2003
Succeeded by
Matt Vogel
Preceded by
None
Performer of Uncle Deadly
1980 - 2002
Succeeded by
Matt Vogel
Preceded by
None
Performer of Pops
1976 - 1979
Succeeded by
Matt Vogel
Preceded by
Richard Hunt
Performer of Statler
1975; 1992 - 2003
Succeeded by
Steve Whitmire
Preceded by
None
Performer of Mr. Snuffleupagus
1971 - 1978
Succeeded by
Michael Earl Davis
Preceded by
None
Performer of Gobo Fraggle
1983 - 1990
Succeeded by
John Tartaglia