I have written often of my enduring love affair with Sesame Street, a magical TV program that is as funny as it is clever and educational.
Central to the show from the beginning were the wonderful Muppet characters that, despite warnings from child psychologists in the late 1960s that seeing humans and puppets together would scramble young minds, were integral to the lessons taught by people such as Bob, and Gordon and Maria.
Among my favourite characters, which included Grover and Oscar the Grouch was Count von Count, who premiered on the show during its fourth season in 1972-1973 and who naturally enough spent his time teaching young kids the basics of maths.
To say he was entertaining was a massive understatement. He was bright, exuberant, and while not goofy like Grover, or Bert and Ernie, had a sense of fun about that made learning maths seem like a lark, which was a miraculous achievement for kids like men who valued words far more than they valued cold sterile numbers.
But the Count made them fun and that was largely due to the puppeteer who gave him life and personality – Jerry Nelson.
Of course at my tender age, I had no idea who Jerry Nelson was, and that was exactly as he, and the producers of Sesame Street wanted it. No peeking behind the fourth wall to see the behind-the-scenes goings on – the Muppets who populated the show were alive and as real as the people they interacted with, and no one, certainly someone was dedicated to his craft and the show’s mission as Jerry Nelson was going to disabuse any found kids of that notion.
Also the man behind Herry Monster, Sherlock Hemlock, The Amazing Mumford (all from Sesame Street) and Gobo Fraggle on Fraggle Rock, Jerry Nelson personality came through loud and clear in his creations as Sesame Street executive producer, Carol-Lynn Palente noted in her tribute to the much loved puppeteer:
“Every description of his characters describes Jerry as well. Silly, funny, vulnerable, passionate and musical, for sure. That voice of his was superb.”
Although he’d been in declining health for some time “his attitude was never bad,” Parente said Friday.
“He was always so grateful for what he had in his life.”
“We’re having a rough day on the Street,” she said.
Jerry Nelson had been ill for some time with emphysema and died August 23 US time at his home on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
While he could no longer handle the strenuous job of physically operating the Count in recent years, he continued to voice him and his voice will be heard in the new season of Sesame Street, which kicks off next month.
His legacy, of course, will extend far beyond that as long as there are kids (much like I was so many years ago) who struggle to get their head around maths and need someone like the Count to make it fun.
RIP Jerry Nelson. You will be greatly missed.