Friday, August 24, 2012

Jerry Nelson 1934-2012

I woke up this morning to the sad news that Jerry Nelson, one of the core Muppeteers, passed away yesterday. I still don't know the cause of death (reports are still coming in), but it seemed like he had been in poor health for some time. I remember that he retired from performing his Muppet characters about eight years ago, with the exception of providing voices (but not puppetry) for his Sesame Street characters. He was still the voice of Count Von Count and the Amazing Mumford until yesterday.

Jerry Nelson's voice could be warm, it could be harsh, it could be silly, but it always had some kind of impact. It demanded attention. He was with the Muppets as far back as the mid-sixties when Jim Henson hired him to replace Frank Oz as Rowlf's right hand on The Jimmy Dean Show when Frank Oz was drafted. Frank failed his physical, but Jerry stuck around and became one of the main performers as the Henson company moved on to Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.

Jerry could play anything. Floyd Pepper was mellow and hip; Robin the Frog was enthusiastic and excitable, with occasional hints of self-doubt; Emmet Otter was humble and hopeful; the Count was an arithmomaniac with an obsessive compulsion to count everything--at least he always seems manic to me. Jerry was really good at playing manic crazies--he was also Lew Zealand and Crazy Harry.

Jerry played a lot of great Muppets: Mumford, Camilla, Angus McGonagle, Dr. Strangepork, Lewis Kazagger, Pops, Thog, Uncle Deadly, Herry Monster, Sherlock Hemlock, Marjory the Trash Heap, Pa Gorg, the Ubergonzo, Mad Monty, Blind Pew... the list goes on and on. And he could sing in a variety of styles; he was the lead vocal in many of my favorite Muppet songs.

I think, though, the one character who most embodied Jerry Nelson as a performer was Gobo Fraggle.

Gobo, adventurous and clever, but also conceited and sometimes downright bossy, was the lead character on Fraggle Rock. Through Gobo, I think Jerry got to play a lot of different facets, and he seemed to enjoy having so much range in a Muppet character. Fraggle Rock had a slightly harder edge than something like The Muppet Show; it dealt with headier concepts in a more direct way than a lot of Henson's earlier projects. Maybe that's the reason why the show isn't as readily embraced; it's a more difficult show, especially for kids.

Jerry Nelson was one of the best. He excelled and was an integral voice (pun intended) in the direction of the Muppets. Other very talented performers have taken over his characters (particularly Matt Vogel), so I'm used to not hearing his voice anymore... but there won't ever be another Jerry Nelson.

1 comment:

Hobgoblin238 said...

Emmet Otter was my favorite!