Jerry Nelson, the puppeteer who gave voice to dozens of characters on “Sesame Street,” “Fraggle Rock” and “The Muppet Show,” died at home in Cape Cod, Mass., on Thursday night after suffering from emphysema for several years. He was 78.
A statement on the Sesame Workshop’s website (the company that produces “Sesame Street”) paid tribute to Nelson, saying, “A member of the ‘Sesame Street’ family for more than 40 years, he will forever be in our hearts and remembered for the artistry in his puppetry, his music, and the laughter he brought to children worldwide through his portrayal of Count von Count, Herry Monster, Fat Blue, Sherlock Hemlock, the Amazing Mumford and many other beloved characters.”
Though Nelson retired from physical puppeteering in 2004, he continued to lend his voice to several muppets right up until his death. The 43rd season of “Sesame Street,” which begins Sept. 24, will feature Nelson’s voice as Count von Count in several episodes.
Lisa Henson, daughter of Muppet creator Jim Henson and current chief executive of the Jim Henson Co., also paid tribute to Nelson in a statement, which read: “Jerry Nelson imbued all his characters with the same gentle, sweet whimsy and kindness that were a part of his own personality. He joined the Jim Henson Co. in the earliest years, and his unique contributions to the worlds of Fraggles, Muppets, Sesame Street and so many others are, and will continue to be, unforgettable. On behalf of the Henson family and everyone at the Jim Henson Co., our deepest sympathies go out to Jerry’s family and to his many fans.”
Nelson was born in Tulsa, Okla., in 1934. He was one of the earliest members of Henson’s troupe of muppeteers, joining the group in 1965. He started on “Sesame Street” in the show’s second season in 1970.
On “The Muppet Show,” Nelson performed Sgt. Floyd Pepper (bassist for the Electric Mayhem), the boomerang fish thrower Lew Zealand and Kermit’s nephew, Robin. On “Fraggle Rock,” he was Gobo Fraggle and Marjory the Trash Heap, among other characters.
He played the role of the telethon announcer in last year’s big screen “The Muppets.”
He is survived by his wife, Jan. A daughter from a previous marriage, Christine, died of cystic fibrosis in 1982.
For the record, 7:10 a.m. Aug. 26: An earlier version of this post said Nelson’s daughter, Christine, was from his marriage with his wife, Jan. She was the daughter from his first marriage, with Jacqueline Nelson Gordon.