“Saying goodbye, why is it sad? Makes us remember the good times we’ve had. Much more to say, foolish to try, it’s time for saying goodbye.”
On Thursday night news was spread amongst the Muppet fan community that Jerry Nelson, 78, had passed on, and the morning of Friday, August 24th, that news was confirmed. Jerry’s health had been suffering for years now, so his sudden death did not come as much of a surprise. Even so, the loss of such a sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational guy is always jarring, especially one who’s been such a prominent part of the growth of the Muppets and Sesame Street for over fifty years.
Some of you may assume, because you are older and no longer watch much Sesame/Muppets, that you don’t know who Jerry Nelson is, but that is where you would be wrong. Jerry originated such characters as: The Count, Gobo Fraggle, Emmet Otter, Herry Monster, Sherlock Hemlock, Robin the Frog, Lew Zealand, Crazy Harry, Floyd Pepper, Marjory the Trash Heap, The Amazing Mumford, Uncle Deadly, Biff, Pa Gorg, and the list goes on and on. See? Unless you grew up in a childhood without any Muppet or Sesame goodness (ie. a childhood void of happiness), you can’t say this man didn’t touch your life. Because he most certainly did.
Jerry was one of the original Muppeteers. When Frank Oz was drafted in the 60′s, Jerry was hired to fill in as Rowlf’s right hand on The Jimmy Dean Show alongside Jim Henson. His work at first was very on again-off again, but his collaboration with the Muppets continued to grow. He even took on the title roles in the television specials The Frog Prince and Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. He joined with Sesame Street in its second season in 1970, where he performed every year until 2001, when he began to transfer his roles to other performers. He also was on the entire runs of such shows as: The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, and Muppets Tonight. Even after he stopped performing he’d continue to dub his character’s voices for several years, and even made a guest appearance in person on Sesame Street.
As we mourn the loss of this incredible man, we can’t help but ask: what did Jerry Nelson mean to me? Mortality tends to do that to us. It makes us think on all that the person did for us and for the rest of the world. And Jerry Nelson did so much. He taught us to count. He taught us that halfway down the stairs is a great place to sit, and that being little isn’t such a bad thing. He taught us that silly things like boomerang fish can be art, that chickens can be beautiful, and that theatre phantoms aren’t always so scary. He taught us that adventures are worth going on, and what some people consider to be trash can be the most important thing on this planet to others. He even taught us that sometimes you just get bad service at restaurants and it can’t be helped (curse you, Grover!).
What’s more, Jerry led a great life and was a wonderful human being. He was a really soulful guy, which can be seen in the music he created in his spare time. He was kind to his fans, always responding to those who reached out to him and always having something lovely to say. Not to mention he was just plain goofy.
Jerry Nelson may not be a name that many people know, but it is clear that his characters will continue to be loved, especially with great puppeteers like Matt Vogel taking Jerry’s roles and helping them live on. To quote a song used in Emmet Otter (which you can listen to Jerry sing here): “When the mountain touches the valley all the clouds are taught to fly, as our souls will leave this land most peacefully. Though our minds be filled with questions, in our hearts we’ll understand, when the river meets the sea.”
Rest in peace, Jerry Nelson. We’ll always remember the good times we had with you.