Jerry Nelson, the puppeteer best known for giving voice to Count von Count, the silly but instructional vampire mathematician on television's "Sesame Street," died Thursday at his home in Cape Cod, Mass., the Sesame Workshop announced. He was 78.
Nelson had suffered from emphysema for several years.
"Every description of his characters described Jerry, as well. Silly, funny, vulnerable, passionate and musical, for sure," said Carol-Lynn Parente, executive producer of "Sesame Street." "That voice of his was superb."
For the Count — with his flowing vampire cape and purple face — Nelson did a voice influenced by Bela Lugosi, an actor known for playing Count Dracula.
Lisa Henson, daughter of late Muppet creator Jim Henson and chief executive of the Jim Henson Co., said in a statement: "Jerry Nelson imbued all of his characters with the same gentle, sweet whimsy and kindness that were a part of his own personality."
After joining "Sesame Street" during its second season in 1970, Nelson brought to life such characters as the woolly mammoth Mr. Snuffleupagus and detective Sherlock Hemlock, whose catchphrase was "Egad!"
Although Nelson retired from physical puppeteering in 2004, he continued to voice several Muppets on the educational program for children. On the 43rd season of "Sesame Street," which begins Sept. 24, Nelson will be heard as Count von Count in several episodes.
His menagerie of characters was also featured on television in the 1980s musical-based series "Fraggle Rock" and "The Muppet Show," a variety-style program that aired from 1976 to 1981.
On "Fraggle Rock" he was the puppeteer behind Gobo Fraggle, the leader of the pack; and Marjory Trash Heap, the oracle of the dump. He also voiced Sgt. Floyd Pepper, bassist for the Electric Mayhem, among other characters.
Born July 10, 1934, in Tulsa, Okla., Nelson worked as a salesman, waiter and dude wrangler before joining Henson's troupe of Muppeteers in 1965.
After declaring himself "a born ham," Nelson told the Detroit Free Press in 1998: "I've played for a living."
Nelson's survivors include his wife, Jan.