The Impact Of Jerry Nelson

Jerry Nelson (July 10, 1934 – August 23, 2012)

I remember when Jim Henson died back in 1990 it didn’t really affect me. I was, after all  twenty years old and having just recently left the confines of public school; eagerly looking forward to getting my “You can now purchase alcohol legally” card.

I was roughly nine years removed from the days of regularly watching Kermit the Frog and Ernie (who was always my favorite Muppet). So, although still tragic, I saw Henson’s untimely passing as something much too childish to think about.

Fast forward 22 years.

Jerry Nelson, another famous Muppeteer, passed away on August 23rd at the age of 78. Although having lived nearly three decades longer than Henson, his death has affected me more. I look at the list of characters he has portrayed over the course of his career; many of whom were a regular part of my life growing up in the 1970’s. Among them:

The Count and Jerry Nelson

The Count: my second favorite Sesame Street character, next to Ernie of course. I loved him.
Herry Monster: The one monster that ALWAYS scared me. Must have been that he always looked angry and had that big nose.
Sherlock Hemlock: The greatest detective.
The Amazing Mumford: Ala peanut butter sandwiches.
Mr Johnson: The  bald, blue-headed Muppet who always ate at the restaurant Grover worked at.
Floyd Pepper: the bass player for the band Electric Mayhem on The Muppet Show.

But perhaps the most sentimental Jerry Nelson character for me was Emmet Otter from the Jug Band Christmas story that played every December on HBO. A story that I will always remember sitting next to my grandmother and watching every year.

Funny, I can still hear her yelling to me from downstairs, and it always sounded like the house was on fire by the tone in her voice:

Emmet Otter and Jerry Nelson

JIMMY!!! HURRY UP AND GET DOWN HERE – EMMET OTTER IS ON!!

Perhaps it’s because I’m now a middle-aged man that I’m starting to become acutely aware of the fact that every day more and more parts of my childhood die. And even though I’ve never met Jerry, it’s hard not to look back at his passing without a sense of sadness. For in many ways, much like The Count and The Amazing Mumford, he was a part of my family.

My grandmother has been gone for 16 years now. Whenever I think about her, the first thing I think about are those cold days in December when Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas came on. And now, I’ll think about Jerry Nelson too.

Godspeed Mr. Nelson. Your work will not soon be forgotten; at least not by this 42-year-old kid.

41 thoughts on “The Impact Of Jerry Nelson”

  1. Somehow I missed hearing about this. It’s sad news indeed. Not only did I grow up with the Muppets and Sesame Street like so many kids of the 70s and 80s, but Emmett Otter was (and remains) a huge deal in my family as well. I can relate to the impact this has on you.

    You’ve paid him a very nice tribute. Congrats on your FP, it’s well-deserved!

    1. The Count was second only to Ernie as far as favorite characters go. All those great characters he did were cool. He’ll definitely be missed.

  2. This is an excellent ode. I didn’t know he had died.

    I came here from The Heretic. Cheers to you, for this post.

  3. I was also an Ernie fan along with the count and the Amazing Mumford, but my favourite by far was Grover (I may not be strong, but I’m wiry). Thank you for this post and the trip down memory lane.

    1. Thank you so much for the re-blog. Although they’ll find someone to replace him, there will only be ONE Count as far as I’m concerned.

  4. Nice post! I recently watched the Elmo doc centered around the puppeteer Kevin Clash. It’s an amazing world bursting at the seems with creativity, and the skills of these puppeteers to bring fabric to life just blows me away.

    1. Thanks! Although I’ve never really liked Elmo, I’m going to have to check out that documentary. Those guys make it look so easy. It blows me away too.

  5. Emmit Otter’s Jugband Christmas is still one of my favorite Christmas movies! My friends thought I was nuts when I saw it in a Target 3 years ago and started jumping for joy on the spot. He was a huge part of many people’s childhoods, and he will be missed dearly.

  6. Lovely post. Grew up with Sesame Street & The Muppets. My all time favorite skits were with Grover and Mr. Johnson; actually anything with Grover, he’s my fave! Kids today don’t know what they are missing…

  7. Thanks for this tribute to the Count. When I heard the news, I was immediately back with my own sons, singing “Doing the Batty Bat.” The Count will always be the voice in my head for counting sheep.

  8. Thanks for posting such a great tribute. Jerry Nelson was amazing—as was (and is!) the rest of the Muppet team—and there’s not another group quite like them.

  9. that was awesome. I had no idea he did all of those voices. The count was one of my favorites, so for that I knew I would miss Nelson – and so many kids will suffer without ever knowing it… :((( But I loved all of those characters! SO SAD!

  10. its funny, sometimes we get so caught up in the beauty of animation/cartoons/puppets that we forget there is a real person behind them. thank you for this post, it was nice to be reminded of such a good man

  11. Well said, sir. As you say, when icons or creativity leave us – it is a mark on our memories/childhood impressions/creativity. However, it also reminds me how they just “don’t make them like they used to.”

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