Tony Geiss, the writer and lyricist who helped give life to the animated characters on Sesame Street, died Jan. 21 in Valhalla, NY at the age of 86. His cousin confirmed the news to the New York Times, citing complications from a recent neck injury as the cause of death.
Geiss most notably spent over three decades working as a staff writer and a composer for Sesame Street, the award-winning kids show that features Jim Henson’s Muppet characters in short skits and animated sequences. Geiss invented several Muppets of his own, including the Honkers and Abby Cadabby, and helped come up with the concept and theme song for “Elmo’s World,” a segment featuring the furry red monster that runs at the end of every episode.
His contributions to the TV show earned him 22 Daytime Emmys screenwriting and songwriting.
"Tony's brilliant words, his sense of humor, his musical virtuosity, and his respect for children in this country and around the world, brought laughter, love and learning together for generations,” said the Management and Board of Trustees of Sesame Workshop in a Jan. 23 statement. “His work will continue to be shown and treasured by millions for years to come.”
In addition to Sesame Street, Geiss also wrote for a number of popular films geared toward young audiences, including The Land Before Time, the popular 1988 animated film about orphaned dinosaurs, several of its direct-to-video sequels and Steven Spielberg’s 1986 children’s movie An American Tail.
Geiss’ wife of 60 years, Phyllis Eisen, died December 2009. There are no immediate survivors.