Jerry Nelson

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Jerry Nelson
Jerry Nelson.jpg
Nelson in a Sesame Street publicity photograph from June 2012, two months before his death. Here he is pictured with the Count.
Born Jerry L. Nelson
(1934-07-10)July 10, 1934
Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
Died August 23, 2012(2012-08-23) (aged 78)
Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S.
Occupation Puppeteer, singer, musician
Years active 1965–2012
Spouse(s) Jacqueline Gordon (divorced)
Jan Nelson
(m. 1984; his death 2012)
Children 1

Jerry L. Nelson (July 10, 1934 – August 23, 2012) was an American puppeteer, singer, and musician, 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 in 2012. His other Muppet roles on that program were The Amazing Mumford, Herry Monster, Biff the Construction worker, Mr. Johnson, Simon Soundman, Mr. Chatterly, Frazzle, rock star Little Jerry, 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, the mad pyrotechnist Crazy Harry, and the Phantom of the Muppet Show, Uncle Deadly. He performed Statler in the pilot episode but was replaced by Richard Hunt when he could not perform full-time in the first season. He was a full-time performer for the rest of the show's run. Nelson was also selected to play Statler after Hunt's death, after the end of the show. 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 Louis Kazagger, Pops the doorman, Giant blue monster Thog, gossip columnist Fleet Scribbler, and Scooter's uncle, J.P. Grosse, who owned the theater. He originated the role of Fozzie Bear's mother in Series 2 of the Muppet Show and reprised the role in the TV specials A Muppet Family Christmas, The Muppets at Walt Disney World, and the film The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Nelson performed the puppet and voice of Emmet in Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, a 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 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 Muppet Show's first season. She made a cameo appearance in the second Muppet movie, The Great Muppet Caper. He then married his second wife Jan Nelson in 1984, they remained married until his death in 2012.[5][6]

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 on August 23, 2012. Matt Vogel currently performs most of Nelson's Muppet characters.[7]

Illness and death[edit]

Nelson suffered from prostate cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and emphysema.[8][9] For the last six years of his life, he required an oxygen tank to assist his breathing.[10] On August 23, 2012, Jerry Nelson died at his Cape Cod home from complications of his illnesses, a month after his 78th birthday.[11] The film Muppets Most Wanted was dedicated to him and Jane Henson (who also died aged 78).

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Roles Notes
1969-2012 Sesame Street Count von Count, Herry Monster, Biff, Two Headed Monster, Sherlock Hemlock, Snuffy, Frazzle, The Amazing Mumford, Mr. Johnson, Old McDonald, Farley, Herbert Birdsfoot, Additional Muppets
1976-1981 The Muppet Show Floyd Pepper, Robin the Frog, Lew Zealand, Crazy Harry, Pops, Louis Kazagger, Camilla the Chicken, Uncle Deadly, Dr. Julius Strangepork, Slim Wilson, Bruno, Additional Muppets
1979 The Muppet Movie Floyd Pepper, Robin the Frog, Crazy Harry, Camilla the Chicken, Lew Zealand, Count von Count, Herry Monster, Biff, Mr. Johnson, Herbert Birdsfoot, Additional Muppets
1981 The Great Muppet Caper Pops, Floyd Pepper, Lew Zealand, Louis Kazagger, Slim Wilson, Himself, Additional Muppets
1983-1987 Fraggle Rock Gobo Fraggle, Pa Gorg, Marjory the Trash Heap, Architect Doozer, Feenie Fraggle, Additional Muppets
1984 The Muppets Take Manhattan Floyd Pepper, Camilla the Chicken, Lew Zealand, Count von Count, Herry Monster, Biff, Additional Muppets
1985 Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird Count von Count, Herry Monster, Biff, Two Headed Monster
1987 A Muppet Family Christmas Emily Bear, Robin the Frog, Floyd Pepper, Count von Count, Herry Monster, Gobo Fraggle, Additional Muppets
1989 The Jim Henson Hour Beard, Orange Extreme, Evil McBad, Himself, Additional Muppets
1990 The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson Robin the Frog, Lew Zealand, Floyd Pepper, Gobo Fraggle, Additional Muppets
1992 The Muppet Christmas Carol Tiny Tim Cratchet (Robin the Frog), Jacob Marley (Statler), Ghost of Christmas Present, Ma Fozziwig, Additional Muppets
1996 Muppet Treasure Island Mad Monty, Blind Pew, Statler, Floyd Pepper, Pirate, Additional Muppets
1996-1998 Muppets Tonight Statler, Mama Fiama, Dr. Watson, Clarissa, The Mad Bomber, Phil, Additional Muppets
1999 Muppets From Space Ubergonzo, Statler, Robin the Frog, Floyd Pepper, Additional Muppets
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland Count von Count, Mr. Johnson, Grouch Mayor, Pestie, Additional Muppets
2011 The Muppets Announcer uncredited

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
None
Performer of Count von Count
1972 – 2012
Succeeded by
Matt Vogel
Preceded by
None
Performer of Mr. Johnson
1972-2012
Succeeded by
Matt Vogel
Preceded by
Richard Hunt
Performer of Two-Headed Monster
1979 - 2000
Succeeded by
Joey Mazzarino
Preceded by
None
Performer of Mommy Snuffleupagus
1970s
Succeeded by
Martin P. Robinson/Noel MacNeal
Preceded by
None
Performer of Sal Minella
1996
Succeeded by
Brian Henson
Preceded by
Jim Henson
Performer of The Muppet Newsman
1996
Succeeded by
Brian Henson
Preceded by
None
Performer of Mulch
1980s
Succeeded by
Kevin Clash
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
John Kennedy
Preceded by
None
Performer of Herry Monster
1970 – 2003
Succeeded by
Tyler Bunch
Preceded by
John Lovelady
Performer of Crazy Harry
1977 – 2003
Succeeded by
Rickey Boyd
Preceded by
None
Performer of Camilla the Chicken
1978 – 2003
Succeeded by
Alice Dinnean
Preceded by
None
Performer of Lew Zealand
1978 – 2003
Succeeded by
Bill Barretta
Preceded by
None
Performer of Uncle Deadly
1976 – 1979
Succeeded by
Matt Vogel
Preceded by
None
Performer of Pops
1980 – 2002
Succeeded by
Matt Vogel
Preceded by
Richard Hunt
Performer of Statler
1975; 1992 – 2003
Succeeded by
Steve Whitmire
Preceded by
None
Performer of Dr. Julius Strangepork
1977 – 2003
Succeeded by
Matt Vogel
Preceded by
None
Performer of Mr. Snuffleupagus
1971 – 1978
Succeeded by
Michael Earl Davis
Preceded by
None
Performer of Gobo Fraggle
1983 – 1987
Succeeded by
John Tartaglia