One of the original Muppet performers, Jerry Nelson has passed away at the age of 78. He reportedly died on Thursday of complications from the various cancers and respiratory diseases that he’d been battling for years.
Back in 1965, Nelson started working with Jim Henson when Frank Oz took a break and a new right-hand performer was needed for Rowlf the Dog on The Jimmy Dean Show. Oz returned to work but Nelson stayed with the troupe, performing various characters for Henson’s TV specials.
Nelson joined Sesame Street in its second season and went on to develop numerous characters like Count von Count, Herry Monster, Sherlock Hemlock, The Amazing Mumford, Frazzle, and Grover’s long-suffering customer, Mr. Johnson. Nelson served as a mentor to a young Ricard Hunt and the two quickly became a team, performing duos like Sully and Biff and the Two-Headed Monster.
In addition to his puppeteering skills, Nelson was also a talented musician and those talents were frequently incorporated into his Muppet performances.
On The Muppet Show, he performed characters like bassist Sgt. Floyd Pepper, Dr. Julius Strangepork of “Pigs in Space,” boomerang fish-throwing Lew Zealand, Kermit’s nephew Robin the Frog, Gonzo’s girlfriend Camilla the Chicken, and the Phantom of the Muppet Show, Uncle Deadly. He also served as the announcer for the “Pigs in Space” and “Veterinarians’ Hospital” sketches. Following Richard Hunt’s passing in 1992, he took over the role of Statler, the taller heckler in the theatre box.
On HBO’s Fraggle Rock, Nelson performed Gobo Fraggle, Pa Gorg, and Marjory the Trash Heap.
In 2004, he announced that he would no longer be puppeteering his Muppet characters, citing health reasons. He continued to voice his characters on Sesame Street however until his death. He also reprised his role of the announcer for “The Muppet Telethon” in The Muppets feature film — the highest-grossing Muppet film to date.
A statement on the Sesame Workshop website notes, “The cast and crew of Sesame Street and the staff of Sesame Workshop deeply mourn the loss of cast member and creator of dozens of Muppet characters, Jerry Nelson. A member of the Sesame Street family for more than 40 years, he will forever be in our hearts and remembered for the artistry in his puppetry, his music, and the laughter he brought to children worldwide… We will miss his extraordinary spirit and the joy he brought to our Street.”
What do you think? Who are your favorite Jerry Nelson characters? Have any favorite performances, songs, or sketches?