Last night, the world lost another of the original Muppet Performers. Jerry Nelson passed away at the age of 78. Though he had semi-retired in recent years due to health concerns, he still was an integral part of the Muppet team. And that is one thing that has been a constant since he started working with Jim Henson back in 1965. Nelson was first hired as a replacement for Frank Oz when Oz was called in for the draft. When Oz returned, Nelson was able to keep his position as the third performer in their small band of Muppeteers. Soon, Nelson proved himself indispensable by performing key characters in Muppet specials like The Great Santa Claus Switch, Hey Cinderella! and The Frog Prince, the latter one was where Kermit the Frog's nephew Robin was introduced (performed by Nelson). It was also during this time that Henson helped create the seminal children's series Sesame Street, yet another Muppet production in which Nelson played an important role. Nelson performed several characters on the show, but the ones that really struck a chord with audiences included the big blue Herry Monster, the Doyle-esque Sherlock Hemlock and (more famously) the iconic Count Von Count who simply loved to count. As an original member of the Muppet team, he of course was brought along when Henson and Oz developed the musical-variety series The Muppet Show. There, he continued his character Robin the Frog and added new characters to his repertoire including the zany fish-throwing Lew Zealand, the creepy Uncle Deadly, the curmudgeonly stage doorman Pops, the explosively dynamic Crazy Harry and (again more famously) Sgt. Floyd Pepper, the hip bassist for the rockin' Electric Mayhem band. As he continued his characters in the Muppet movies and on Sesame Street, the Henson company was expanding their brand and exploring new worlds and new creatures. And with Fraggle Rock, Nelson performed the prime role of Fraggle leader Gobo. Each of his characters continued to be just as iconic, especially when the Muppet world was rocked to its core by the deaths of creator Jim Henson (in 1990) and fellow Muppeteer Richard Hunt (in 1992). As I said earlier, he had semi-retired in recent years; though he did have a small role in the Muppets recent big screen adventure, last year's hit The Muppets. His importance within the Muppet family cannot be overstated. To honor him (as well as Henson and Hunt), below Nelson alongside Hunt, Frank Oz, Kevin Clash (you know Elmo!), Steve Whitmire (who currently performs Kermit) and Dave Goelz (otherwise known as Gonzo!) sing some of Jim Henson's favorite songs at the Memorial Service just after Henson's death.
And for those who feel like a little shopping will ease the grief, here are some links to some Muppet DVDs featuring Nelson in some of his best roles.