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Remembering Muppeteer Jerry Nelson

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We look back on the life of Truro, Massachusetts resident Jerry Nelson, one of Jim Henson’s core group of “Muppeteers,” perhaps best known for his characters The Count on Sesame Street, Gobo Fraggle on Fraggle Rock and Robin the Frog on The Muppet Show. The program includes archival interview tape with Nelson, as well as commentary from friends and collaborators. Nelson died at his Cape Cod home Thursday, Aug. 23. He was 78 years old.

Despite his long career with the Jim Henson Company and Sesame Street, Nelson never dreamed of being a puppet master. "I had never thought to be a Muppeteer. That was never my goal, that was never any part of my thinking," Nelson explained in an interview. "When I found a job as a puppeteer it was just kind of by accident, I kind of fell into it. And, oddly enough I had scuffled to find some work as an actor. Although I did some jobs, they were few and far between. Once I started working as a puppeteer, I never stopped working.”

Nelson's many fans are doubtless glad for the happy accident. Nelson's first job for Jim Henson was to replace Muppeteer Frank Oz, who had been drafted to Vietnam. Nelson stepped in for Oz as the right hand operator for Henson character Rowlf the Dog, a canine pianist.

In later years, Nelson channeled his passion for music into his work on Sesame Street, singing many of the series' well-known songs. Longtime friend Billy Ball remembers Nelson as a passionate singer, saying, “His pitch, his tone and everything [were] always spot on.” Nelson recorded a solo album, "Truro Daydreams," inspired by his life on Cape Cod.

For the last 6 years of his life, Nelson required an oxygen tank to assist his breathing. But that didn't stop him from recording the voice of the Count, his best-known character. Brian Morris remembers Nelson moving his hands wildly in the studio while recording each take — without re-creating the movements of the puppets, the Count's voice didn't make sense to him.

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