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The Count Is Down
August 24, 2012 4:03 AM   Subscribe

Jerry Nelson, one of the major talents 'underneath' the Muppets, has passed away at the age of 78.

He got his start with the Muppets when Rowlf was appearing on The Jimmy Dean Show, with Jim Henson operating his mouth and one hand and Frank Oz working the other. But when Frank needed a temporary replacement, Jerry became Rowlf's right hand.

He became a full-time member of the Muppet repertoire players, getting his big break as the title character in "The Frog Prince" (previously here) who later became "Kermit's nephew Robin" on The Muppet Show.

He joined the Muppets on Sesame Street where his most notable roles were:
Count von Count (counting flowers) (Counting cookies for Cookie Monster) (singing his theme song),
Herry Monster,
Sherlock Hemlock
and Mr. Snuffleupagus (his first appearance) (Snuffy calls his mother) (Mount Snuffleupagus). He gave up the physically demanding full-body puppet in 1978.

When the Muppets provided some strangely alien puppet characters for the first season of Saturday Night Life, Jerry portrayed the ugly/cute Skred. (with Lily Tomlin) (Last Gasps in The Land of Gorch)

Jerry portrayed the title character in Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas.

On The Muppet Show, in addition to Robin the Frog, Jerry performed as
Sgt. Floyd Pepper of the Electric Mayhem,
Camilla the Chicken,
Lew Zealand
and Crazy Harry,
originated the character of Statler
and became the announcer for segments like "PIGS... IN... SPACE!!!" In fact, he served as "Announcer" for most of the Muppet projects all the way to the telethon sequence in the recent movie.
He also did a lot of the musical numbers as a one-shot character.

He had several roles on Fraggle Rock, most notably as Gobo Fraggle.

Jerry mostly retired from his Muppet work in recent years, sometimes providing voices but not doing the physical puppeteering. But in 2009, he sang and played guitar on an interesting little album titled "Truro Daydreams", with songs like "Get Yourself Free (Happy Little Song)", "(Groovin' on) Noah's Ark" and "Little Red" (with a little help from some other Muppeteers - that's Kevin "Elmo" Clash as the Big Bad Wolf!!)

Here are interviews with Jerry Nelson by
Ken Plume in 1998,
Joe Hennes of the Muppet fan site Tough Pigs in 2009,
Ryan Dosier of "Muppet Mindset" in 2010.
posted by oneswellfoop (68 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
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He'd been ill for some time, so this isn't a surprise, but it's still sad. Rest in peace, Jerry. Jim and Richard are waiting for you.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:09 AM on August 24, 2012


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posted by briank at 4:10 AM on August 24, 2012


But when Frank needed a temporary replacement, Jerry became Rowlf's right hand.

How does that work, exactly? The left hand and the head are controlled by one person and the right hand by another? Can someone link to video showing how the Muppets are manipulated? Maybe some backstage video?
posted by pracowity at 4:19 AM on August 24, 2012


This isn't Rowlf, but here is Jim Henson and Richard Hunt teaming up for Ernie while Frank Oz does Bert
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:27 AM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


As a kid of the 80s, in addition to his muppeteering, I knew Jerry Nelson from the story of his daughter, Christine, who had cystic fibrosis. The book her mom wrote about her, Give Me One Wish, was obligatory reading among teenage girls. Even based on his ex-wife's account, Jerry was a really good guy and a great dad.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:28 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


How does that work, exactly? The left hand and the head are controlled by one person and the right hand by another?

You're absolutely correct. Live-hand Muppets like Rowlf, Cookie Monster, Ernie and Dr. Teeth are performed by two people. The lead performer puts his or her dominant hand (usually right) in the character's head and the other hand in one of the character's arms. The assisting performer operates the remaining hand.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:31 AM on August 24, 2012


I worked at the Muppets from '76 to '79, and you couldn't find a nicer, funnier guy than Jerry. He was an exceptional musician. He will be sorely missed.
posted by joetrip at 4:42 AM on August 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


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posted by ChuraChura at 4:44 AM on August 24, 2012


Aww man.

ʘ

(closest I could find a to ping pong ball eye)
posted by DigDoug at 4:44 AM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by Bummus at 4:51 AM on August 24, 2012


Man, Jim Henson and the rest of the Muppet folks are and were some of the best people ever. Just nice people doing fun things for good reasons. Their programs, especially the kids' ones, were just so empathetic to the viewer in a way that modern programs are not. Too bad we lost another one.
posted by gjc at 4:56 AM on August 24, 2012


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posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 5:02 AM on August 24, 2012


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I was just looking at a picture of some Fraggles and their operators yesterday.
Here it is.

And I always lived Lew Zealand and was happy to see is cameo in The Muppets.

I'm too sad to click on too many of these links just now.
Mount Snuffy was so, so sad when I was a toddler.
So, so sad.
It has been almost 40 years and I have never forgotten where I was the first time I saw it.
posted by Mezentian at 5:02 AM on August 24, 2012


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posted by drezdn at 5:09 AM on August 24, 2012


I was just looking at a picture of some Fraggles and their operators yesterday.

Why is Red Fraggle being performed by Paul McCartney?
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:19 AM on August 24, 2012


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posted by Gelatin at 5:27 AM on August 24, 2012



I love all sorts of Muppet things, but Mr. Nelson here was at the forefront of a couple of the most special ones for me. Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas is a major tradition for me and my family. And the Fraggles were an obsession growing up. Thanks, Jerry.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 5:30 AM on August 24, 2012


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Sometimes, when I am feeling REALLY down, this video is the only thing that can pick me up.

"I can't! My feet are stapled!!"
posted by sc114 at 5:31 AM on August 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


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posted by Smart Dalek at 5:33 AM on August 24, 2012


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posted by sheprime at 5:40 AM on August 24, 2012


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posted by frijole at 5:45 AM on August 24, 2012


He was also Simon Soundman on Sesame Street. The Music Shop sketch (sorry, bad quality) is constantly referenced by members of my wife's family. "I want a ba babadabada ba babadabada baaaaa bada ba!". I love that distinctive voice of his.
posted by tomcooke at 5:49 AM on August 24, 2012


Holy.... Woooosh Time Machine Batman.

I had (have?) the Sesame Street Encyclopedia and all, and I remember that sketch, but I had no idea Simon Soundman had a name. I feel like you just slipped acid into my wine.

*waves glass about*
posted by Mezentian at 5:54 AM on August 24, 2012


ʘ
posted by tilde at 5:55 AM on August 24, 2012


Jerry's words (through Robin) about Jim during the memorial special consistently bring me to tears, and I think they're pretty appropriate today too.

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posted by cvp at 5:55 AM on August 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh goodness. Much sadness. He was so intrinsic in creating so much that has brought me joy across basically my entire life.

Thanks, Jerry. For being such a force for light and laughter and sometimes even welcome poignancy in this life and so many others. Immortality is yours because what you did lives on in millions, and will for generations to come.

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posted by hippybear at 5:57 AM on August 24, 2012


Oh. Fudge.
CVP, that was mean.
I had never seen that.

If I had feelings I'd be crying.
posted by Mezentian at 5:59 AM on August 24, 2012


Why is Red Fraggle being performed by Paul McCartney?

That's Karen Prell.
Prell also performed on the Creature Shop films Dreamchild and Labyrinth. During the latter film, she first became romantically involved with future husband Mike Quinn, as they made each other's goblins flirt during lulls in shooting.
posted by zamboni at 6:03 AM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Aww, man.

Thanks, Jerry. You did good.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:13 AM on August 24, 2012


Why is Red Fraggle being performed by Paul McCartney?

That's Karen Prell.


I know that, you silly person. :) But you have to admit, the resemblance in that photo is pretty uncanny.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:18 AM on August 24, 2012


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posted by skycrashesdown at 6:20 AM on August 24, 2012


Damn, he will be dearly missed.

Rest in peace, Jerry.

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Thanks for the link, sc114. I needed that.
posted by wiskunde at 6:37 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


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(This is a great post. I was not aware Jerry Nelson, but I certainly was aware of and admired his work. Thank you, oneswellfoop, for making such a great post about the life of this impressive man.)
posted by Flood at 6:47 AM on August 24, 2012


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posted by Navelgazer at 6:49 AM on August 24, 2012


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ah-ah-ahh
..
ah-ah-ahh
...
ah-ah-ahh
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 6:50 AM on August 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was one of the 167 people Jerry followed. I once tweeted him and he responded nicely, but after that I let him be. I like to think that he would occasionally read my tweets and chuckle, a small repayment for the joy he and his fellow Muppeteers brought me over the years.

I still want to be Gobo Fraggle.
posted by inturnaround at 6:51 AM on August 24, 2012


Cookie Monster and The Count perform If I Knew You Were Coming I'd Have Baked A Cake (featuring Jerry's wonderful talents, from 1974)
posted by hippybear at 6:55 AM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


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One moment!
Two moments!
Three moments of silence, hah ah ahhh!
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:06 AM on August 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


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posted by Cash4Lead at 7:11 AM on August 24, 2012


Of course, even Count Von Count could work blue sometimes.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:16 AM on August 24, 2012


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posted by marginaliana at 7:18 AM on August 24, 2012


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My nursery school had the soundtrack record (yes, RECORD) of The Frog Prince. I loved it so much I made my parents buy me a copy. I suspect I could still recite most of it if asked.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:33 AM on August 24, 2012


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posted by koucha at 7:39 AM on August 24, 2012


I loved the Count when I was younger. Now my kids do too, although my daughter thinks the bats are scary. Thanks for the wonderful memories, Mr. Nelson, and for giving me endless moments of laughter and sweetness with my kids as they were learning about the world around them.

Here's a wonderful seven minute segment from Jim Henson's memorial service which features Jerry doing several songs as both part of an ensemble of muppeteers, and some solo songs.

ʘ
posted by zarq at 7:43 AM on August 24, 2012


It's funny - when I was a kid, I couldn't stand The Count. He was a total "groaner" character for me since he was so predictable ("Wow, who would have ever guessed that this sketch would end up with The Count counting a bunch of stuff?").

For whatever reason, as an adult who has occasionally watched Sesame Street with my son, nephews and niece, I had a total turnaround on the guy and now find him to be probably my favorite character on the show. I find his single-minded obsessiveness with a peculiar hobby to be completely hilarious.

In particular, this sketch with Susan Sarandon parodying her "Rocky Horror" role never fails to crack me up.
posted by The Gooch at 7:54 AM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


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Oh, Jerry Nelson. I didn't even know that your name was written into my memory, that I would see your name and know it, but it was and I did--- from so many years, so many times seeing it on the shows I dearly loved. Thank you for so much joy and comfort and entertainment.

My nursery school had the soundtrack record (yes, RECORD) of The Frog Prince. I loved it so much I made my parents buy me a copy. I suspect I could still recite most of it if asked.

ME TOO! We had lots of those soundtrack records (the entire audio track to the movies, dialogue and songs), and The Frog Prince was my favorite. Dad wired up the hi-fi (yes) to put a set of speakers in each kid's room so we could all listen along as we fell asleep. When it was my turn to choose, I always, but always chose "The Frog Prince."

I must have listened to that record hundreds of times over the years. Not long ago, I found "The Frog Prince" on YouTube (I don't know if it's all still there, but here's part one) and discovered to my absolute lack of surprise that I still knew it word for word. It's been carved into my mind, like the groove on a record.
posted by Elsa at 8:01 AM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's been carved into my mind, like the groove on a record.

That's a beautiful way to put the mark the muppets and sesame street and fraggle stuff has left on a whole lot of us.
posted by DigDoug at 8:17 AM on August 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


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posted by Iridic at 8:33 AM on August 24, 2012


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posted by entropicamericana at 8:58 AM on August 24, 2012


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posted by radwolf76 at 8:59 AM on August 24, 2012


One of my favorite Muppet Show moments: Floyd Pepper and Pearl Bailey
posted by cottoncandybeard at 10:09 AM on August 24, 2012


Aw, Herry Monster and Biff are two favorite characters of mine from childhood that fell by the wayside. It's so funny how seeing pictures of them is like looking back at pictures of old friends...which I guess they are.

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posted by jocelmeow at 10:10 AM on August 24, 2012


I woke up to this news and knew a piece of my childhood was gone. Then I got a message from a MeFi user who had just solved the mystery of a childhood book question I'd posted to AskMe in 2009 and had been bothering me for more than a decade. Piece of childhood restored.

What a strange, up and down day for my childhood. RIP, Jerry. ONE piece of childhood...ah, ah, ah.
posted by ilana at 10:11 AM on August 24, 2012


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Grew up watching/listening to countless characters voiced by Jerry Nelson, but Emmet Otter was the best.

I'm doing a lot of rehearsing in a band with friends these days, and every time we play through a song multiple times, I hear Jerry-as-Emmet telling his fellow jug band members they need to start "Barbecue" from the top yet again.

"That was fair."

We rehearse again this Sunday, and I'll hear his voice then, too. RIP.
posted by pianoblack at 11:28 AM on August 24, 2012


So very sad... The Muppets just lost a significant part of their distinct voice.

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posted by smirkette at 12:16 PM on August 24, 2012


In particular, this sketch with Susan Sarandon parodying her "Rocky Horror" role never fails to crack me up.

I had never seen that before. Mind blown. Castles don't have phones!!!

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posted by dnash at 1:14 PM on August 24, 2012


Oh, the Muppet Show and Sesame Street were such big parts of my childhood. Time marches on, however.

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I knew Jerry Nelson from the story of his daughter, Christine, who had cystic fibrosis.

Not long before her death, the two appeared in an on-camera cameo in The Great Muppet Caper.
posted by evilcolonel at 1:40 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This makes me so sad. I know people can't live forever, but he was part of some of the best feelings I had as a child.

A few days ago, my 2yr old set us all laughing with "1, 2, 3 - THREE stars! AH-AH-AH-AH-AH!" - I hadn't realised she'd picked up on that whole thing so well, but that's just how memorable he'd made the character even with as little exposure as she's had to the show (she occasionally watches carefully cultivated videos from YouTube, as we don't have a TV).

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posted by batmonkey at 2:14 PM on August 24, 2012


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posted by josephtate at 2:53 PM on August 24, 2012


The lead performer puts his or her dominant hand (usually right) in the character's head and the other hand in one of the character's arms. The assisting performer operates the remaining hand.

An exception is when there needs to be clear coordination between the two hands, in which case, the lead operates the head while the second works the arms. Yes, this is awkward. The most famous example is the Swedish Chef, where (at first) Jim Henson worked the head and voice, and Richard Hunt worked the arms and hands -- and they were quite literally his hands coming out of the sleeves, because he need the dexterity to handle the props.

This make the Swedish Chef a rarity -- a five fingered Muppet.
posted by eriko at 2:57 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is still one of my favorite Christmas carols. Count von Count manages to make the song better than it has any right to be.

I LEARNED IT FROM MY DENTIST!
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 3:00 PM on August 24, 2012


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posted by IndigoRain at 4:07 PM on August 24, 2012


. .. ...
posted by Deathalicious at 6:58 PM on August 24, 2012


Heartbreaking. I have always love the Count, and Elder Monster had a Major Thing for him as a child. We can STILL sing The Batty Bat Song from memory.

/\../\

Goodnight Jerry. Sleep sweet.
posted by MissySedai at 7:13 PM on August 24, 2012


A young Jerry Nelson can be seen in this pitch film for a Henson commercial campaign
posted by evilcolonel at 7:28 PM on August 24, 2012


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posted by ZeusHumms at 11:04 PM on August 24, 2012


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posted by tribalspice at 6:54 AM on August 25, 2012


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posted by Start with Dessert at 1:39 AM on September 10, 2012


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