Wonders Follow Me: A Personal Reflection on Jerry Nelson

24 Aug

Yesterday a star went out, as news quickly spread that long time Muppet and Sesame collaborator, Jerry Nelson, had passed away.

Many of you probably assume you don’t know who he was, and you’d be incredibly wrong in thinking so. If you grew up with Sesame Street, then you’d know Jerry best as The Count, Herry Monster, Sherlock Hemlock, and Mr. Johnson (ie. Fat Blue). If you grew up with Fraggle Rock, then you’ll know him as Pa Gorg, Gobo Fraggle, and Margery the Trash Heap. And with the Muppets he will always be known for Lew Zealand, Robin the Frog, Floyd Pepper, Crazy Harry, and hundreds of others. Just looking at all his puppeteer credits on the Muppet Wiki should clue you in to how much Jerry’s been apart of not just your childhood, but your life as well.

Jerry was seventy-eight, and his health had been deteriorating over the years, so his sudden death wasn’t too considerably shocking… but then again, losing such an influential figure is always jarring. I knew straight away I’d want to write a personal reflection on the part Jerry’s played in my own life, but finding the words have been so difficult for me. I can’t help but think on these lyrics from The Muppets Take Manhattan:

“Saying goodbye, why is it sad?
Makes us remember the good times we’ve had.
Much more to say, foolish to try.
It’s time for saying goodbye.”

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I haven’t been in the Muppet fandom for very long. Not compared to the multitude of friends I’ve made, who’ve been obsessing over Muppets, Sesame, and Fraggle Rock for years on end. I’ve always loved Sesame and the Muppets, but I’ve only been around the fandom for a little over a year and a half now. Even so, that’s still enough to make me want to run outside and sprint through the streets screaming, “Don’t you realize what’s happened? Doesn’t it eat away at your heart? Doesn’t anyone care?”

I’ve been playing the song ‘When the River Meets the Sea‘ on constant repeat since my friend, Scott, informed me of Jerry’s passing last night. The opening verse Jerry sings of this song touches me so much, because I can’t help but relate it to his passing:

“When the mountain touches the valley,
All the clouds are taught to fly
As our souls will leave this land most peacefully.
Though our minds be filled with questions,
In our hearts we’ll understand
When the river meets the sea.”

Jerry Nelson was the first Muppeteer I became aware of after Jim and Frank, seeing as I knew about Jim and Frank long before my Muppet love became a prominent part of my life. I’d seen footage once in 2010 of all the Muppeteers performing at Jim’s memorial, but while I recognized the voices I couldn’t place the faces (besides Frank’s). Cut to January of 2011, I’m stuck in bed with strep throat and discovering more and more by the minute that the Muppets are the most amazing thing on this planet. I made the first real steps of my life as a Muppet fan while bed ridden and ill: I found the Muppet wiki. I spent hours on that thing, learning people’s names, who played what character, who wrote for the shows/movies, and so on. I remember the first Muppeteer I ever looked up was Jerry. I remember this as clearly as if it were yesterday. I remember thinking, “Okay… Floyd! Yeah, I know who Floyd is. And Robin too, but… Uh… Who’s Louis Kazagger? … And is Crazy Harry the one with the bombs? And who’s Gobo?” I had a long way to go as a fan, but I cemented Jerry’s face and voice in my mind that day, and it’s never left me since.

Jerry’s also the reason I found the Muppet fan community so quickly. I’m sure I would’ve found them out eventually, but upon doing a Google search for Jerry I found that he had posted on Muppet Central before. This led me to making my own MC Forums account, which led me to meeting some incredible people and, eventually, got me onto Tough Pigs. Again, I’m sure I would’ve discovered all this on my own time, but thanks to Jerry I learned right from the get go that I was not alone in this brand new obsession.

One thing that saddens me about his passing is that I’ll never get the chance to meet the man. For months now I’ve had the idea of getting the words “Something’s Calling Me” tattooed on one wrist, and “Wonders Follow Me” on the other. I had always hoped I’d someday meet him once I had these tattoos so I could show him. I bet he would’ve gotten a kick out of them. He seemed like the type of guy who would.

I’m sure every fan and friend of Jerry is thinking the same thing today: what did Jerry mean to me? Mortality tends to do that to us. It makes us think on all that the person did for us and the rest of the world. And Jerry did so much. He taught us to count. He taught us that halfway down the stairs is a great place to sit, and that being little isn’t such a bad thing (which is good to know, as I am a pretty short person). He taught us that silly things like boomerang fish can be art, that chickens can be beautiful, and that theatre phantoms aren’t always so scary. He taught us that adventures are worth going on, and what some people consider to be trash can be the most important thing on this planet to others. He even taught us that sometimes you just get bad service at restaurants and it can’t be helped (curse you, Grover!).

Goodbye, Goodbye,
And every eye is dry.
Leavin’, there’s no grievin’,
Just a rainbow in the sky.
Goodbye, goodbye.

More so than anything, Jerry taught me what it means to be an all around swell guy. I never met him, as previously stated, but I’ve heard enough about interactions with him to know he was a truly amazing human being, just as every person who works with the Muppets is. He brought laughter with performances by Lew and Mr. Johnson, tears with songs by Robin, and the need to dance with pretty much every song Floyd ever did. He was a guy filled with soul, which is greatly reflected in his own personal music that he’s recorded on his own.

This morning I deliberated if I wanted to go on my usual run, since I wasn’t feeling quite up to it. The only reason I decided to go really was because I had to make a stop at the bank to deposit my paycheck anyway. I’m glad I did though. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have noticed the book on the bank’s table of toys for kids that had the Count on the cover. It made me realize that, even though Jerry is gone, his characters will truly live on forever. I also noticed two older men bickering in a friendly fashion on the sidewalk that bore a striking resemblance to a certain two hecklers, which I couldn’t help but think of not just Jerry, but Jim and Richard as well.

Times like this makes us reflect on not just who we’ve lost, but everyone we’ve lost. The song ‘Can You Picture That’ came up on my iPod during my run, and I couldn’t help feeling heartbroken that the main three singers of the song are all now gone. Not just those guys either. Over the years we’ve lost Jerry Juhl, Eren Ozker, Will Lee, Don Sahlin, Judy Freudberg, Northern Calloway, and the list goes on. I wasn’t alive for the passing of Jim, and I was only one when Richard passed on, so this is the first time I’ve ever had to cope with losing a truly prominent person of Muppet and Sesame renown.

I don’t know if I believe in heaven or not, seeing as my relationship with religion is so jumbled, but I know I’d like for it to exist. If heaven does exist, then I really hope Jim, Richard, Christine (Jerry’s daughter), and Jerry Juhl were all waiting for Jerry as he made his way through those pearly gates. Especially Richard. I can just see Richard, a big silly grin slapped on his face, approaching Jerry with open arms. The duo reunited. What a sight to see.

If you guys have some time, I recommend watching these clips of Jerry’s performances:

I’ll end this piece with a quote from the article the AV Club wrote up on Jerry’s passing, that I think defines Jerry’s contribution to Sesame and Muppets to a tee:

“If Jim Henson was the heart of The Muppets, and Frank Oz the brains, than Jerry Nelson was the soul.”

4 Responses to “Wonders Follow Me: A Personal Reflection on Jerry Nelson”

  1. georginacblog August 24, 2012 at 1:38 PM #

    I follow your Tumblr and I just had to say how beautiful this blog post is. A fitting tribute to a wonderful man. The vast range of characters that he did is just incredible. As I read the muppetwiki entry for him today, my eyes welled up with the realisation that so many of my favourite background characters were played by him and will never be again. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about Jerry. He would be very touched I’m sure.

    • puckrox August 24, 2012 at 3:44 PM #

      Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed what I wrote. That means a great deal to me. 🙂

      • georginacblog August 31, 2012 at 5:31 AM #

        I saw this and thought you might like it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19409960

        I love their police-code related hypothesis at the end of the article. It made me chuckle.

  2. Max August 25, 2012 at 5:57 PM #

    Thank you, Julia.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: