Remembering Jerry Nelson
Jerry Nelson, best known as the puppeteer of the iconic Count von Count, Herry Monster, Fat Blue, the Amazing Mumford and many more was a beloved member of the Sesame Street family for over 40 years. In a testament to the lasting impact his humor and talent made on the Sesame Street cast and crew, cast members Emilio Delgado and Sonia Manzano and puppeteer Fran Brill graciously offered remembrances of Jerry’s life and work. In addition puppeteer Carroll Spinney, best known for his work as Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, drew an original work of art commemorating some of Jerry’s most famous characters.
On Thursday, Oct. 31, Sesame Street will honor his memory by airing a special Count Von Count episode. We hope you will tune in and celebrate the life and work of a man who holds a special place in the hearts of the entire Sesame Street family.
Fran Brill is the first female Muppet™ performer hired by Jim Henson for Sesame Street. Since joining the show, she has won numerous Emmy Awards and created and performs the characters of Zoe, Prairie Dawn and many others.
Oh, Jerry. The man with a thousand voices. Maybe because he was such an excellent singer his flexible vocal chords enabled him to create characters as diverse as the young Robin frog to the Count to Sherlock Hemlock to Herry Monster. The list goes on and on. But it wasn’t just his vocal versatility that made him one in a million. It was his superb acting skills which defined every character.
He had been an actor in his former life and it was evident. In fact, during his last days up at the Cape we found out that both of us were at the same summer stock theater but in different years! His acting choices were strong. He gave you something to play off of and he made you look good.
Jer’s occasionally crusty exterior was just a big show. He was a man of deep sentiment and gentleness. He had been through much pain in his life and I think sometimes he sought to disguise that with a touch of brusqueness. He just made me laugh. I loved performing Roxy Marie to his Uncle Biff on Sesame Street. There was much in that sweet uncle/niece relationship that was not spoken nor addressed but we knew it was there.
I miss his glorious singing voice. He sang with such joy and freedom. He was truly at home on the stage singing with his musician buddies. He left us but thankfully his music and hours and hours of his television and film performances will live on.
Originally from Calexico, California, Emilio Delgado has played Luis on Sesame Street since 1971.
Because we were both from the West, I felt a special bond with Jerry. I liked his friendly way and easy smile. I imagined him as an intrepid cowpoke, who, guitar in hand, had somehow made his way “back East” and fallen in with a wild bunch who were the perfect counterparts to his sharp wit and zany humor. It was a fortuitous match made in Muppet heaven! From then on, blessed with a boundless imagination and a prodigious acting and musical talent, Jerry reveled in the “up and down melody of life” as he put it, treating everyone as they wanted to be treated: with sincerity and respect. His friendship, generosity and kindheartedness were as vast as the Western sky and it was an honor to have been his friend.
And there you are my friend
You saddled up and rode on out
Back to your Oklahoma sky
Sittin’ by a fire, sippin’ cowboy joe
An old guitar, a sad refrain
To hurry dreams along
And there you are
It was a wild and wacky ride
Tall tales and looney tunes
But now, just kickin’ back
And there you are
Good night sweet friend …
Sonia Manzano is a first generation Puerto Rican who has touched the lives of millions of parents and children as Maria on Sesame Street.
Fat Blue, the hapless diner tormented by Grover reminded me of the character “Marty” in the Patty Chayefsky play of the same name.
The Amazing Mumford was an endearingly pathetic lounge act as great as any of W.C. Field’s.
I know barflies like Donizetti Ferlinghetti – through that character Jerry managed to roll up the whole beat-generation into a fat blue foam head wearing sun glasses. Who, by the way, I always thought was African-American.
Then there was Herry Monster — that lovable galut who didn’t know his own strength. Couldn’t help loving him any more than I could help loving some of my least favorite relatives.
Of course, The Count was zany enough to make us love his obsessive-compulsive counting disorder.
And when Jerry played a scene in limbo with a kid – he could be loose, bold, and expressive yet guide the scene with finesse and subtlety.
But I’ll never forget entering the studio in the days when the human cast believed Snuffy was Big Bird’s imaginary friend. Snuffy was singing a song about feeling invisible. When he sang lyric “I guess I’ll just go back to my house and make believe I’m love,” Jerry sang it with sorrow and just the right amount of hope to keep me hanging on.
And then, of course, there was that glorious voice. Jerry lives in all of us he touched.