Friday, November 09, 2012


Back in 2011, the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens hosted a nine-month-long exhibit about the body of work produced by film and television pioneer and Muppets creator Jim Henson.  The exhibit was such a huge success that the museum has since hosted a variety other Henson- and Muppet-related screenings and talks.  I had the honor of attending one of those gatherings, a tribute to recently-deceased and beloved Muppeteer Jerry Nelson.

Jerry (1934-2012) played umpteen different Muppet characters, including that of Count von Count on Sesame Street.
The MOMI tribute was hosted by Jim Henson Legacy President Craig Shemin, who immediately introduced the members of Jerry's family who were present in the audience.

Craig's wife and Sesame Street performer Steffanie D'Abruzzo then showed a compilation of 150 clips of Jerry's years as a Muppeteer which she personally  had put together.  Through the collection, Stephanie wanted to the "breadth, depth, and versatility" of Jerry's work.

Fran Brill, another long time Sesame muppeteer, also introduced her own selection of clips.  She talked about Jerry being the backbone of the Muppets and a key character actor with a flexible voice and vocal chords who gave the Muppets voice and soul.  Fran, who described Jerry as being "crusty on the outside, and like butter on the inside,"  also mentioned that Mr. Nelson was  an avid environmentalist and talented musician.

Muppeteer Matt Vogel talked fondly about Jerry's performances as Sergeant Floyd Pepper from the Muppet rock group The Electric Mayhem.  Dave Goelz, who performs Gonzo, talked about Nelson's work on Fraggle Rock, the devastating loss of his (Nelson's) daughter to cystic fibrosis, and the joy of the Muppet gang when Jerry married his wife Jan.

Bonnie Erickson, creator of some of the original Muppets and the Executive Director of the Jim Henson Legacy, shared excerpts of the emails, letters, and calls that poured into the Legacy's office in the wake of Jerry's passing.  She told of how Joe Bailey, a writer for the Muppets, had described Jerry as "mellow, discreet, gentle, and charming."

It was deeply moving to see such an amazing collection of clips and hear key Muppet performers and creators speak about their experiences with and feelings about Jerry Nelson. To bear witness to a performer, environmental activist, and musician being honored with such generosity of spirit simply reflected back the essence of who Jerry was.

PS - Enjoy the video of Dave's highlights of the tribute.
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