It’s a very sad time on Sesame Street and down in Fraggle Rock.
The Associated press has reported that Jerry Nelson, the puppeteer behind such characters as Count von Count (a.k.a. “The Count”) on Sesame Street and Gobo Fraggle on Fraggle Rock, died last Thursday. He was 78.
The news was announced by the nonprofit Sesame Workshop, the production entity that produces Sesame Street, last Friday. The company lauded Nelson for his artistry and the “laughter he brought to children worldwide” with the Count and other Muppets such as Sherlock Hemlock, Herry Monster and the Amazing Mumford. Nelson suffered from emphysema and had given up the physically demanding job of operating the puppets on Sesame Street, but he still voiced the characters. This September the show’s latest season will launch, and Nelson’s voice will be heard.
Nelson started his career working for puppeteer Bill Baird, who was known for Charlemane the lion and performing “The Lonely Goatherd” musical sequence in Julie Andrews film version of The Sound of Music. He started working with Jim Henson’s Muppets in 1965, when Frank Oz took time off and someone was needed to perform Rowlf the Dog’s right hand on The Jimmy Dean Show. He worked with the Muppets off and on, finally rejoining Henson and Oz as a puppeteer with Sesame Street’s second season.
Over the years, Nelson played many popular Muppets, such as Mr. Snuffleupagus from 1971-1978 on Sesame Street. On The Muppet Show he was Sgt. Floyd Pepper (the bassist of the Electric Mayhem band), Dr. Julius Strangepork from “Pigs in Space,” Kermit the Frog’s nephew Robin the Frog, Gonzo’s girlfriend Camilla the Chicken, and the boomerang fish-throwing Lew Zealand, among others. When Fraggle Rock began production for HBO, Jim Henson and Richard Hunt limited their time on the show, so Nelson was asked to perform the lead role of Gobo Fraggle. Nelson also took on Pa Gorg and Marjory the Trash Heap.
While Nelson may be gone, his characters, their voices and signature expressions will live on forever.