My contributions to this blog in the earliest days were inspired by a rediscovery of the Muppets and the inspiration they have provided for me. The sincerity and dedication of Jim Henson and company was always at the forefront of every performance. Another of the great first generation Muppeteers, Jerry Nelson, died Friday at 78.
Jerry was the voice of Herry Monster, Robin the Frog, Mumford the Magician, and Sgt. Floyd Pepper of the Muppet Show band, but it was his performance as Count von Count that was probably most iconic. Nelson was introduced to the Muppet fold in the 60s after Frank Oz was drafted into the army. By the 70s he had made himself an irreplaceable fixture, by being the company’s utility player. His characters were not often the leads, but they provided terrific foils for the marquis Muppets.
Nelson was great with the kids too!
Jerry was particularly useful in musical numbers. His gigs as Floyd in particular, whose speaking voice was closest to Nelson’s own, provided some of the finest performances from the Muppet Show.
Nelson, suffered from lung ailments for a number of years, putting his signature voice out of commission. Here are a handful of classic performances to bring that voice back if only for a moment.
Of the classic Muppet performers, few remain. Henson and Richard Hunt died tragically young. Dave Goelz (Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew, Waldorf) and Steve Whitmire (Wembly Fraggle, Bean Bunny, Rizzo) are still plugging away, even taking up some of the classic roles. But Frank Oz and Carroll Spinney, perhaps the two other iconic voices of Sesame Street crew have pretty much hung up their hand puppets. Spinney effectively retired as Big Bird and Oscar in 2009. Oz has been a spotty performer as Bert, Cookie Monster, Miss Piggy, and Fozzie for decades after a successful career as a director split his time. Nelson’s illness left another hole in the original company that has been filled by a new generation. It’s a testament to the strength of the performances by the original Muppeteers that their characters live on under the stewardship of new performers.
Sometimes the Count’s OCD was a bit creepy!