Jerry Nelson (July 10, 1934 – August 23, 2012) was an American puppeteer, best known for his work with The Muppets. Renowned for his wide range of characters and singing abilities, he performed Muppet characters on Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, and various Muppet movies and specials.
Nelson was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and raised in Washington, D.C. He began puppeteering for Bil Baird. His first job with the Muppets was The Jimmy Dean Show in 1965. Frank Oz was going to take some time off from puppeteering, so Nelson was hired to perform Rowlf the Dog’s right hand in his stead.
After The Jimmy Dean Show ended, Nelson continued to perform Rowlf’s right hand with the Dean show on its live tour. At the conclusion of the tour, Frank Oz rejoined the company. Jerry continued working with The Muppets, performing in variety shows and commercials until in 1966. The amount of work was somewhat reduced, so Jim Henson had to release Nelson. Following this, Nelson puppeteered in a number of projects in the late 1960s.
 The Muppets
After learning that the Muppets were used on Sesame Street, he rejoined Henson and Oz as a puppeteer, beginning in the second season. He received a number of his major characters early in the show’s run, including the Sherlock Holmes parody Sherlock Hemlock (1970–1995, 2010), a hapless magician named The Amazing Mumford (1971–2012), and the overly strong but sensitive Herry Monster (1970–2012). His most famous character is the arithmomaniac vampire Count von Count (1972–2012).
He was also the first puppeteer to perform Mr. Snuffleupagus, keeping the role from 1971 to 1978. Most sources (including Sesame Street Unpaved and Sesame Street: A Celebration – 40 Years of Life on the Street) state that back problems caused by the physical stress of the performance forced him to bow out, but in a 2009 interview Jerry Nelson gave a different explanation for giving up the role: “I was not loathed to give that character up. But the reasons for giving it up were because at that time we were doing The Muppet Show and he was a real part of the show, and they needed his presence. So they asked if I’d mind giving it up.”. Minor recurring characters include educator Herbert Birdsfoot (1970–1973), the sound-mimicking Simon Soundman (1971–1992), the more frightening-looking monster Frazzle (1971–2012), Grover’s customer Mr. Johnson (1971–2012), Little Jerry of the band “Little Jerry and the Monotones” (1970–2000) and most of the announcers that appear in Sesame Street sketches (1970–2012). Jerry Nelson also made a cameo appearance as the giant in the “Sesame Street News” story of Jack and the Beanstalk.
When Richard Hunt joined the Muppets, he was only 18, so Nelson acted as a mentor to him. The two quickly became a powerful puppeteer team, performing such characters together as Sully and Biff (1972-ca. 1999) and The Two Headed Monster (1978–2002). David Rudman took over Hunt’s halves of these duos following his death.
Nelson also performed many characters on The Muppet Show, including Sgt. Floyd Pepper (the bassist of the Electric Mayhem band), Pigs in Space star Dr. Julius Strangepork, the boomerang fish-throwing Lew Zealand, Kermit the Frog’s nephew Robin the Frog, Gonzo’s girlfriend Camilla the Chicken, and the Phantom of the Muppet Show, Uncle Deadly. Nelson’s Muppets on The Muppet Show were all only supporting roles, but they did occasionally play a central role in an episode’s plot.
Less prominent characters on the show include sportscaster Lewis Kazagger, Pops the doorman, gossip columnist Fleet Scribbler, and Scooter’s uncle J.P. Grosse who owned the theatre. He performed Statler in the pilot episodes, but dropped the role when he could not perform full time on the first season. He was, however, a full-time performer for the rest of the show’s run. Nelson was selected to play Statler after Richard Hunt’s passing. He originated the role of Fozzie Bear’s mother in the special A Muppet Family Christmas, and reprised it years later for The Muppets at Walt Disney World.
Nelson performed the puppet and voice of Emmet in Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, and one-hour special that originally aired on HBO. He later performed the signature song from that show, “When the River Meets the Sea,” as Robin in a duet with John Denver for a Muppet Christmas special. That version of the song gets frequent radio airplay during the Christmas season (although the song is not seasonal).
On Fraggle Rock he performed Gobo Fraggle, Pa Gorg and Marjory the Trash Heap. Frank Oz did not perform on Fraggle Rock, and Jim Henson and Richard Hunt limited their time on the show, so they performed supporting characters. For this reason, Nelson was asked to perform Gobo, the central role on the show.
Nelson’s characters were often singers or musicians. He performed the lead vocals for many songs as Floyd of the Electric Mayhem, Little Jerry of Little Jerry and the Monotones, Slim Wilson of Lubbock Lou and his Jughuggers, and a number of Anything Muppet bands. Most of his main characters in all three shows sang songs at one time or another.
 Cartoon voice actor
Nelson has also performed character voices in Sesame Street cartoons and Private Public from Sheep in the Big City.
He reprised the role of the announcer in The Muppets. His final performance as the said announcer was part of the Jim Henson’s Musical World concert at Carnegie Hall.
 Other work
In December 2009, Nelson released his first album of original songs, entitled Truro Daydreams.
 Personal life
Nelson had a daughter named Christine. She had cystic fibrosis and died from the disease in 1982, after attending Rye Country Day School. Her health problems were the reason Nelson took so much time off The Muppet Show’s first season. She had a cameo in The Great Muppet Caper. Jim Henson gave her a speaking part so she would become a member of the actors’ union.
In 2004, Nelson announced that he would no longer be puppeteering his Muppet characters, citing health reasons. However, he continued to voice his characters on Sesame Street until his death eight years later. Matt Vogel currently performs his Muppets characters, as well as the puppetry of Count von Count, with the latter following Nelson’s death.
Jerry Nelson died on Thursday, August 23, 2012, of complications from the various cancers and respiratory diseases from which he suffered in his final years. He had suffered from emphysema for years.