Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Tribute to Jerry Nelson (1934-2012)

Jerry Nelson with two of his Sesame Street alter egos,  the Count von Count and Herry Monster

We were saddened to hear about the recent death of Muppets puppeteer Jerry Nelson.  He was never as famous as Jim Henson or Frank Oz, but if you ever watched Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock or any of the various "Muppet" movies, you know Jerry Nelson through the many characters he performed.

Jerry Nelson was a brilliant puppeteer.  His best known characters were Count Von Count and Snuffalupagus, both from Sesame Street.  But he also performed dozens of other Muppets, such Floyd Pepper, Robin the Frog (Kermit's nephew), Lew Zealand, Uncle Deadly, Gobo Fraggle, and many more (including most of the "announcer" type voices that crop up in various Muppet performances).  It's not a stretch to say Nelson was the "best supporting actor" of the Muppet performers.
Robin & Uncle Kermit sing 'Jingle Bells' in Muppet Family Christmas

As "children of the 70s", Nelson's work had a big impact on our lives.  In addition to his regular TV gigs, he also performed on quite a few Holiday specials and films.  Since this is a holiday-themed blog, we wanted to pay tribute.

It's hard to get through the Holiday Season without hearing the voice of Jerry Nelson.  Here's a list of all the Christmas specials/movies/episodes he worked on:
*The Great Santa Claus Switch (1970)
* Christmas Eve On Sesame Street (1978)
* John Denver And The Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979)
* Fraggle Rock- The Bells Of Fraggle Rock (1984)
* The Christmas Toy (1986)
* A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
* The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
* Elmo Saves Christmas (1996)
* It's A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002)
* Elmo's Christmas Countdown (2007)
Nelson as the Ghost of Christmas Present

One of Nelson's lesser known characters was Scred,  who was part of a group of Muppets that appeared on the first season of Saturday Night Live (back when the show was still called NBC's Saturday Night).
Here is a picture of Scred interacting with Candace Bergen in the 1975 Christmas episode of the show:

Scred flirting with Candace Bergen on a Chirstmas SNL (1975) 

But our favorite Muppets Christmas special is Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas (1977).  Nelson voices the gentle title character Emmet Otter and  also Stanley Weasel, a, um...weaselly villain who is the polar opposite of the sweet, innocent Emmet.

Emmet Otter on wash tub bass 

Both of us had watched the special a dozen times before realizing this, which is the ultimate tribute to Nelson's talent.  We'll get around to a full-fledged review of this special before the end of the year.
Stanley Weasel, guitarist for Riverbottom Nightmare Band and nemesis of Emmet Otter.

In addition to Christmas specials, Nelson also performed on The Muppets Valentine Show (1974) as the 9 1/2 foot blue monster Thog, among other characters.  We reviewed that special earlier this year.

Thog gets a Valentine hug from Mia Farrow in "The Muppets Valentine Show" (1974)

We were saddened to learn of Jerry Nelson's death in August of this year,  but we are glad that his great Muppet performances will live on.  Thanks for all the great memories, Mr. Nelson!  RIP.

Jerry Nelson tribute art by James Hance  (check out his website:
-  J.A. Morris RigbyMel


bga said...

I had no idea Emmett Otter and the weasel were both voiced by the same talented man. He truly was versatile!

bga said...

I loved sharing the story about Emmett Otter with my students.