Puppeteer for Sesame Street’s Count von Count has died

Posted at 4:33 PM, Aug 27, 2012
and last updated 2012-08-27 16:33:46-04

(CNN) — Jerry Nelson, the puppeteer behind the Count and other “Sesame Street” stalwarts, as well as colorful characters from the Muppets and “Fraggle Rock,” has died.

He was 78.

The Sesame Workshop, the educational organization behind the landmark PBS children’s program, lamented the passing of a man who has been part 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,” the organization said Friday in a statement. “We will miss his extraordinary spirit and the joy he brought to our Street.”

According to the Jim Henson Company’s website, Nelson was a native Oklahoman who grew up largely in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked briefly at WRC-TV in the nation’s capital and, in 1965, began working as a puppeteer with Henson on a television pilot for a show called “Cinderella.”

Thereafter, Nelson became inseparable from Henson and his productions. Early on, that included performances and commercials, a full week on the Mike Douglas variety show, and roles as parts of the then-fledgling Muppets troupe.

He followed Henson to “Sesame Street,” bringing a number of characters to life such as Herry Monster, Fat Blue, Sherlock Hemlock and the Amazing Mumford. And of course there was Count von Count, the warm vampire with an infectious love of numbers.

“We are so sad to hear of Jerry Nelson’s passing,” Sonia Manzano, who plays Maria on “Sesame Street,” wrote on Twitter. “We have lost another Sesame Street great.”

Nelson was also involved in a number of other ventures helmed by Henson, the legendary puppetmaster and storyteller who died in 1990 at the age of 53.

His roles included playing Kermit’s nephew Robin the Frog and rocking Electric Mayhem member Floyd Pepper from “The Muppet Show,” Scred in a recurring “Saturday Night Live” sketch and Gobo of “Fraggle Rock” fame.

Lisa Henson, daughter of Jim Henson and the CEO of his namesake company, remembered Nelson for instilling “all his characters with the same gentle, sweet whimsy and kindness that were a part of his own personality.”

“His unique contributions to the worlds of Fraggles, Muppets, Sesame Street and so many others are, and will continue to be, unforgettable,” Lisa Henson said in a statement.

Andy Clinton, a CNN iReporter, recalled Nelson as “one of the most familiar and fantastic voices of my childhood and adulthood.” The teacher said he keeps a cardboard cutout of the Count in his English classroom.

“I’m just glad I don’t have to keep track of the number of people who have been touched by Jerry Nelson’s work, the number of people who will miss him, because I don’t think that even the Count could count that high,” Clinton said.

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