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: 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:
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.