Jerry Nelson

Jerry Nelson
Jerry Nelson
Born July 10, 1934 (1934-07-10) (age 77)
Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.

Jerry Nelson (born July 10, 1934) is an American Muppet puppeteer, known for his wide range of characters, singing abilities, and his frequent partnership with Richard Hunt.


Early years

Nelson was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and was raised in Washington, D.C. He began puppeteering for Bil Baird. His first job with the Muppets was The Jimmy Dean Show in 1965. Frank Oz was going to take some time off from puppeteering, so Nelson was hired to perform Rowlf the Dog's right hand in his stead.

After the Jimmy Dean Show closed, Nelson continued to right hand Rowlf on a live tour with The Jimmy Dean Show. At the conclusion of the tour Frank Oz rejoined the company and Jerry continued working with The Muppets doing variety shows and commercials until in 1966 the work dropped off somewhat and Jim Henson had to let Nelson go, as there wasn't enough work on the show for three puppeteers. Following this, he puppeteered in a number of projects in the late 1960s, but none of these would make him as famous as his years to come.

The Muppets

After learning that the Muppets were used on Sesame Street, he rejoined Henson and Oz as a puppeteer, beginning in the second season. He received a number of his major characters early in the show's run, including the Sherlock Holmes parody Sherlock Hemlock (1970–1995, 2010), a hapless magician named The Amazing Mumford (1971–present), and the overly-strong but sensitive Herry Monster (1970–present). His most famous character is the arithmomaniac vampire Count von Count (1972–present).

He was also the first puppeteer to perform Mr. Snuffleupagus, keeping the role from 1971 to 1978. He gave up the role when it became too straining on his back. Minor recurring characters include educator Herbert Birdsfoot (1970–1973), the sound-mimicking Simon Soundman (1971–1992), the more frightening-looking monster Frazzle (1971–present), Grover's customer Mr. Johnson (1971–present), Little Jerry of the band "Little Jerry and the Monotones" (1970–2000) and most of the announcers that appear in Sesame Street sketches (1970–present). Jerry Nelson also made a cameo appearance as the giant in the "Sesame Street News" story of Jack and the Beanstalk.

When Richard Hunt joined the Muppets, he was only 18, so Nelson acted as a mentor to him. The two quickly became a powerful puppeteer team, performing such characters together as Sully and Biff (1972-ca. 1999) and The Two Headed Monster (1978–present). David Rudman took over Hunt's halves of these duos following his death.

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, the boomerang fish-throwing Lew Zealand, Kermit the Frog's nephew Robin, and Gonzo's girlfriend Camilla the Chicken. 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, however, a full-time performer for the rest of the show's run. Nelson was selected to play Statler after Richard Hunt's passing.

Nelson performed the puppet and voice of Emmet in Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas, and 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 vocalist 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.

Cartoon actor

Nelson has also performed character voices in Sesame Street cartoons, General Specific from Sheep in the Big City, the Nickelodeon show KaBlam!, Sniz & Fondue in the episode "Crustacean Sensations" and Dewey, one of Donald's Nephews.[vague]

He also was a voice in an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy as King Grimmy (Grim's Grandfather).

Personal life

Nelson had a daughter, Christine. She had cystic fibrosis and died from the disease in 1982 after attending Rye Country Day School. Her health problems were the reason her father took so much time off The Muppet Show's first season. She had a cameo in The Great Muppet Caper. Jim Henson gave her a speaking part so she would become a member of the actors' union.

In 2004, Nelson announced he would no longer be performing his Muppet characters, citing health reasons. However, he continues to perform his characters on Sesame Street, and it is possible that he may return to the role of Gobo for the Fraggle Rock feature film.

In December 2009, Nelson independently released his first album of original songs, entitled "Truro Daydreams".[1]


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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