Jerry Nelson, Puppeteer Who Gave Afterlife to The Count, Dies at 78

Jerry Nelson - P 2012
Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Jerry Nelson - P 2012

Mr. Snuffleupagus, Camilla the Chicken and Floyd were among his other creations.

Jerry Nelson, the skilled puppeteer who played Sesame Street's math-addicted vampire Count von Count, has died, The Jim Henson Co. confirms. He was 78.

In a statement posted to the studio's Facebook page, Lisa Henson, CEO and daughter of its legendary founder Jim Henson, writes: "Jerry Nelson imbued all his characters with the same gentle, sweet whimsy and kindness that were a part of his own personality. He joined The Jim Henson Co. in the earliest years, and his unique contributions to the worlds of Fraggles, Muppets, Sesame Street and so many others are, and will continue to be, unforgettable.

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"On behalf of the Henson family and everyone at The Jim Henson Co.," she continues, "our deepest sympathies go out to Jerry's family and to his many fans."  

Nelson's long collaboration with Henson began when both met at NBC affiliate WRC-TV in Washington D.C., birthplace of The Muppets. The two first worked together as puppeteers after both had moved to New York City in the mid-1960s, and Nelson was called on to fill in for Frank Oz on variety series The Jimmy Dean Show, playing the right hand to Rowlf the canine pianist.

That first gig would lay the groundwork for what would become a decades-long creative partnership that took Nelson to Sesame Street in the 1970s and The Muppet Show and various Muppet movies throughout the 1980s. 

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Besides The Count, Nelson also created such indelible Muppet characters as Mr. Snuffleupagus, a shy pachyderm friend to Big Bird; Sgt. Floyd Pepper, bassist of the Electric Mayhem Band; Dr. Julius Strangepork, science officer on the USS Swinetrek; Camilla the Chicken, the other half of Gonzo's inter-species relationship; Lew Zealand, master fish-boomerangist; and Robin, sweet nephew to Kermit the Frog. Nelson also played Gobo Fraggle, the lead subterranean creature of Fraggle Rock.

In 2004, Nelson announced his retirement as a puppet-operator -- a physically strenuous art -- but still worked with The Muppets in the years that followed, providing voice to The Count up to his death. He also appeared as a telethon announcer in 2011's The Muppets.