Sad news for Muppet fans: original performer Jerry Nelson has died at the age of 78. Muppet Central first reported the news, with it being verified by the CBC. Although no cause of death has been released, Nelson had struggled with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and prostate cancer.
Nelson first began working with Jim Henson in 1965, when Frank Oz was drafted, and Henson needed a new right-hand performer for Rowlf the Dog on “The Jimmy Dean Show.” When Oz failed his physical, Nelson stayed on board performing various characters for Henson’s TV specials, including the full-bodied Thog the Monster and developing Kermit’s nephew Robin. He joined “Sesame Street” in its second season developing the characters of Count von Count and Mr. Sunffleupagus, among others. A fruitful relationship with Richard Hunt, inspired the creation of the Two-Headed Monster. On “The Muppet Show,” Nelson performed a variety of one-off characters, with some proving so popular that they became recurring sketches, including Lew Zealand and Crazy Harry. He also had the distinction of supplying the announcer voice for every Muppet and “Sesame Street” production — including the iconic “PIGS. IN. SPACE!”
Nelson remained a pivotal member of the Muppet team throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Unfortunately, Nelson had to begin limiting his Muppet work starting in the 2000s due to his health issues. He continued to performed Count for “Sesame Street” howeve,r and provided his notable announcer voice to last year’s big-screen revival, “The Muppets.”
For a full list of the characters performed by Nelson, check out the gallery below.