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Jerry Nelson

Jerry Nelson

Jerry Nelson Floyd Pepper

Jerry performing Floyd Pepper.

File:Jerry Nelson Gobo Fraggle Fraggle Rock set.jpg

Jerry Nelson (July 10th, 1934 - August 23rd, 2012) began his Muppeteering career working for Bil Baird. He joined the company in 1970 & began working regularly on Sesame Street. Since then, Nelson has performed as a principal Muppeteer in numerous Muppet productions including the Muppet movies, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, & various TV specials.

Jerry Nelson's characters on The Muppet Show are, Crazy Harry, Floyd Pepper, Robin the Frog, (the nephew of Jim Henson's Kermit the Frog), Pops, Lew Zealand, Emily Bear (mother of Frank Oz's Fozzie Bear), Camilla the Chicken, & several others. It was he who originated the role of Statler to Jim Henson's Waldorf, but he soon passed it on to his very good friend Richard Hunt, with whom he was paired on several occasions. Then, after Hunt sadly passed away, Nelson became Statler again. He's also voiced a number of Grouches over the years.

In 2004, Nelson announced he would be moving away from performing his classic Muppet characters, citing health reasons.[1] However, he continued to voice his characters on Sesame Street. In 2005 he was 1 of the narrators on the audiobook version of It's Not Easy Being Green, displaying his vocal versatility by reciting most of the quotes from Muppet characters, including Dr. Teeth & the Doozers.

In late 2009, Nelson released his debut album Truro Daydreams.[2]

Early works with Henson

Jerry Nelson 1st worked with Jim Henson in 1965 when Frank Oz got drafted & Henson needed somebody to perform Rowlf the Dog's right hand on The Jimmy Dean Show. However, Frank Oz failed his draft physical, but since Nelson had just gotten his job, Oz chose to take some time off from performing & thereby let Nelson stay w/ the Muppets.

1 of Nelson's 1st major roles was Featherstone in Hey, Cinderella! & The Frog Prince. In the early 70s he also performed a full-body monster named Thog who appeared in The Great Santa Claus Switch & various variety show appearances. In The Frog Prince, he performed Kermit the Frog's nephew Robin the Frog for the 1st time; however, in that appearance, although Robin's voice & personality were the same, the character was actually a prince who was turned into a frog. Nelson also performed T.R. & Caleb Stiles in The Muppet Musicians of Bremen, Scred on SNL, & Emmet Otter in Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas.

Sesame Street

File:Jerry Nelson Count von Count 1.jpg
Jerry Nelson Mr. Johnson

Jerry Nelson became part of Sesame Street during season 2. In this season alone he was given many new characters, including Herbert Birdsfoot, Sherlock Hemlock, Herry Monster, The Amazing Mumford, Little Jerry, Simon Soundman, & Farley. In 1972, he was given the character who is perhaps his best-known character, Count von Count.

Another well-known character Nelson had performed was Big Bird's best friend, Mr. Snuffleupagus. However, most sources (including Sesame Street Unpaved & Sesame Street: A Celebration - 40 Years of Life on the Street) state that physical strain placed on him by the large puppet eventually hurt his back so much that he had to stop performing the character (although he continued to supply the voice only for a time). 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 & he was a real part of the show, & they needed his presence. So they asked if I'd mind giving it up."[3] He also did announcer voices very often, including the announcers for the Sesame Street News Flash & Super Grover openings.

Other notable characters in Nelson's repertoire included Mr. Johnson, Frazzle, Sam the Robot, & Fred the Wonder Horse. He also performed the horns up part of the Two-Headed Monster.

Nelson was often paired w/ performer Richard Hunt. While goofing around on the set 1 day, they acted like a 2-headed monster, & inspired by this, a Two-Headed Monster character was created for them. Jerry Nelson performed the left half of the monster, & cause of this, had to perform the character's head w/ his left hand. (Most performers use their right hands to perform the heads of their characters.) They would also alternate in performing the character Rodeo Rosie. Nelson & Hunt also performed a construction worker duo known as Biff & Sully. Muppeteer veteran David Rudman has been seen taking Richard Hunt's place in these 3 pairings Hunt originally made with Jerry Nelson before he passed away:


39 Years on a 40 Year Street: An Essay by Jerry Nelson

"Today marks the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street. Other than the news, historically the longest running show on television. Well, with the possible exception of a soap opera or 2. Still in all, it is humbling to have been a part of something so significant in the history of the media that was born in my lifetime.

Forty years, seems like a lifetime. Over half of my 75 years on this planet has been spent being what has been referred to as a Muppeteer. It's funny when I think about it because at least 20 of those years I denied being a puppeteer. I was an actor who was working with puppets until a film or stage job came along & all I really wanted to do was sing.

My grandparents used to give me a quarter to learn & sing songs when I was a sprout about 5 years old. "South of the Border" was maybe the 1st of a long list of tunes & I'm still learning them & singing them & will until the day I die. I don't know if they knew the extent of what they were doing & 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 & do & experience in life adds to that oneness that makes each of us so unique & 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 & 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, & brought love & laughter into the hearts & minds of children & adults all over the world.

Chance, dumb luck or destiny? Who knows the controlling force that chooses where & 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 & trained for, wandered the paths of least resistance (following my water nature) to, & that I am either blessed & 1 of the luckiest bozos walking this planet or both. In any case:
Yeehaw, Hot Dawg, you old mustang you & Boy Howdy, today I’m celebrating by getting all my chores done for once! (Oh, didn't I tell you? I'm also the laziest man on Earth.)

Norman Stiles, who was the 1st writer to write for Count, sent me this yesterday:

'It's a beautiful thing. Happy Birthday! Let's put 40 candles in the cake! Then let's light 40 candles! Then let's blow out 40 candles! Then we must take 40 candles out of the cake! Then it will be time to lick the icing off of 40 candles! Then we'll eat the cake, taking 1,000 tiny little bites! & then we will count the burps! Ha, ha, ha!'

Norman, obviously hasn't lost it but.... I wish I'd said that!"
Jerry Nelson [5]

The Muppet Show

Jerry & Jerry Nelson
File:Jerry Nelson Lew Zealand.jpg
File:Robin the Frog & Jerry Nelson.jpg
File:Richard Hunt Jerry Nelson Janice & Floyd Pepper.jpg

Jerry Nelson performed in both of the Muppet Show pilots. In The Muppets Valentine Show, he returned to the role of Thog, & also performed Droop & Miss Mousey. In The Muppet Show: Sex & Violence, for the very 1st time, he performed Electric Mayhem bass player Floyd Pepper. In that special he also performed Statler, Dr. Nauga, Gluttony, Envy, Sloth, the Yellow Stalk, Whaddayasay Bird & the Gene Shalit Muppet. Also in season 1, another of Jerry's characters, Robin the Frog, (the nephew of Jim Henson's Kermit the Frog), would make rather frequent visits to the Muppet theater in order to spend more time with his Uncle Kermit.

When production began on The Muppet Show as a series, Jerry chose to spend some time w/ his daughter Christine, which meant that he couldn't perform in every 1st-season episode. As a result, he gave the role of Statler to Richard Hunt, who would soon become Jerry's best friend, but for the most part he retained his other characters (Floyd, Droop, etc.) from previous productions. Nelson didn't perform in episodes 101 - 103 & 111 - 115. However, when the 1st 2 episodes were reworked later in season 1, Nelson performed Floyd in a segment that was added to episode 102.

None of Nelson's characters were as central to the show as characters like Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, & Scooter, & therefore Nelson often played major 1-shot backstage characters, such as Irving Bizarre, Big Tiny Tallsaddle, & Angus McGonagle. His notable recurring characters included Camilla the Chicken, Pops, Louis Kazagger, & Dr. Julius Strangepork. 1 such character, Lew Zealand, was originally intended as a 1-shot, but soon became a recurring character. Beginning in season 2, Nelson took over 2 of John Lovelady's roles: The announcer & Crazy Harry. Nelson went on to perform nearly every Muppet announcer in a major Henson production until 2002. He was also given such rarely-seen recurring characters as J.P. Grosse (the uncle of Richard Hunt's Scooter & the owner of the Muppet theater), Fleet Scribbler, & Uncle Deadly.

In addition to his versatility at character dialects, Nelson was an accomplished vocalist, & often received showcases on The Muppet Show. Some of his regular characters, such as Floyd & Slim Wilson, were musicians & sang very often. Many of his other characters have displayed their musical talents, whether it was Robin the Frog singing "Halfway Down the Stairs" or "I'm Five", Thog singing "Oh Babe What Would You Say" or Pops singing "Once in Love with Amy". Nelson has also performed many songs as 1-shot characters, including "All of Me","The Windmills of Your Mind", & "3 Little Fishies". In addition to very frequent pairings with the characters of Richard Hunt, (a partnership that was the best in the entire business next to the partnership Jim Henson had with Frank Oz), Nelson was also often paired with Louise Gold in musical numbers, such as "Henrietta's Wedding" & "Your Feet's Too Big".

On his characters, Jerry Nelson was quoted in a 1978 "Muppet Show Fan Club" newsletter: "Each 1 of them is an aspect of my own personality. The Muppets are roles I assume, rather than puppets I manipulate. Robin, for instance, is an undersized metaphor for my own insecurities. He has a childlike curiosity about how things work. Uncle Deadly is the greatest ham actor of all time; Floyd is my laid-back, mellow side - cool. & then there's Crazy Harry, whose ultimate trip is spontaneous combustion. An analyst told me I should develop that side of my personality. I don't think he meant I should go around exploding everything -- just that I should give my emotions more freedom."

He continued to speak fondly of his performance opportunities in later years:

I feel blessed to have worked on something that's become such an icon of the times. I've certainly always thought I've been really lucky in that respect. I enjoy singing & I get to sing a lot. I get to be in a band (the Electric Mayhem) without really being in a band. All of those things make me say, 'Well, that's 1 blessing. That's another blessing."

1980s

Jerry Nelson Gobo Fraggle
File:Jerry Nelson Steve Whitmire Gobo & Wembley.jpg

On Fraggle Rock, Jerry Nelson performed the show's lead character, Gobo Fraggle. He also performed Marjory the Trash Heap & Pa Gorg, w/ Richard Hunt voicing the character of Junior Gorg. Jerry Nelson was 1 of the few Muppet performers to perform voices in The Dark Crystal, performing the voices of the Skeksis Dying Emperor & the Skeksis High Priest. In The Christmas Toy, he performed Balthazar, who he would regularly perform on The Secret Life of Toys. He also performed many characters on The Jim Henson Hour, though his only recurring character on that show was Beard. However, in 1982, a terrible tragedy had struck Nelson's life & his entire family. Christine, Nelson's only daughter & child, passed away due to complications of cystic fibrosis.

1990s

Jerry, not long after Richard Hunt's sudden, tragic death in 1992, which had robbed Jerry of his best friend, once again performed Statler, who he originally performed. He also performed Emily Bear (as Fozziwig's mother), Floyd, Robin (as Tiny Tim), Mr. Applegate, & the Ghost of Christmas Present in The Muppet Christmas Carol, as well as Statler (as a figure on the Hispanola ship), Floyd, Mad Monty & Blind Pew in Muppet Treasure Island. Robin was seen in the opening of this movie but it is unknown whether or not Jerry gave him any lines to say.

He performed many minor characters on Muppets Tonight, & occasionally performed on The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss. He performed his regular characters as well as Ubergonzo in Muppets from Space, & he performed Count von Count as well as both the Grouch Mayor & the Grouch Cop in the 1999 film, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland.

2000s

File:Jerry Nelson Count von Count 2.jpg

Beginning around 2001, Jerry Nelson began to phase out of performing his primary Muppet Show characters; citing health reasons. Many of his characters drifted to silent background roles & several were recast (Statler given to Steve Whitmire starting with 2002's "Keep Fishin'" music video; Floyd to John Kennedy, & then Matt Vogel, who also took over for Robin, & his half of the Two-Headed Monster to Joey Mazzarino in 2001). For the 2002 TV movie It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, Bill Barretta performed the Muppetry & voice of Lew Lealand, but the voices of the Announcer, Robin, & Floyd were looped by Nelson himself. Nelson also continued to voice his Sesame Street characters, including Count von Count & The Amazing Mumford, although Matt Vogel performed the Muppetry of said characters. Vogel, by 2008, had fully assumed most of Nelson's primary Muppet Show characters as well.

It was long rumored that health issues were beginning to limit Nelson's involvement in projects as the aging Muppeteer continued to stay active in the ranks of all the other Muppeteers in the business. Beginning around 2001 complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease & prostate cancer limited Nelson's involvement with the high-demanding Muppet projects. Nelson openly stated in August 2006 that "It is long & boring but I have had health issues for a couple of years now. Different ones...I do intend to work with my old friend Count Von Count again this next season."[1] Nelson continued to perform on Sesame Street & had participated in exclusive DVD interviews for the 1st 2 seasons of Fraggle Rock & Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas.

2010s

Leslie Carrara-Rudolph with Jerry Nelson

Leslie Carrara-Rudolph with Jerry Nelson

Although he was uncredited, Nelson did reprise his role as the Announcer during The Muppet Telethon in 2011's The Muppets. Audio clips of his original introductions to the Pigs in Space & Veterinarian's Hospital sketches & are also heard in the film, when Kermit 1st walks into the Muppet Theater. He also served as announcer for Jim Henson's Musical World in 2012.

Nelson suffered from prostate cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, & emphysema.[6] For the last 6 years of his life, he required an oxygen tank to assist his breathing.[7]

Then, on August 23rd, 2012, unfortunately, Jerry Nelson passed away at his Cape Cod home from complications of his illnesses.[8] He is survived by his 2nd wife, Jan. Nelson's voice as the Count will be featured in several episodes of the upcoming 43rd season of Sesame Street, which were filmed earlier in the year.

Muppeteer Credits

Predecessors/Successors

Notes

  • Nelson's daughter Christine, who was dying of cystic fibrosis, made a cameo appearance with him in The Great Muppet Caper. Jim Henson graciously gave Christine a few brief lines of dialogue, so she could become an official member of the Actors' Equity Association.

Audio credits

Jerry Nelson records for Fraggle Rock

Jerry Nelson records for Fraggle Rock.

Leslie Carrara-Rudolph with Jerry Nelson

Sources

  1. 1.0 1.1 Jerry "Twiddlebug" Nelson, Muppet Central Post August 22nd, 2006
  2. ToughPigs: Jerry Nelson - The Album, 1/13/2010
  3. Nelson, Jerry Tough Pigs interview with Jerry Nelson
  4. Studio DC Almost Live Hosted by Dylan & Cole Sprouse
  5. jimhensonlegacy.org
  6. 'Sesame Street' puppeteer Jerry Nelson dies
  7. Remembering Muppeteer Jerry Nelson
  8. Jerry Nelson 1934-2012 « ToughPigs — Muppet Fans Who Grew Up

See also

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