Paying Tribute to Jerry Nelson in NYC

Published: October 30, 2012
Categories: Muppet Mindset

Ryan Dosier – On Saturday afternoon at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City (technically Astoria, but you don’t really care about that), dozens of Muppet fans, plenty of Muppet performers, and a who’s who of Muppet history showed up to pay tribute to the legendary Jerry Nelson. I was lucky enough to be in attendance at this truly special event and I just wanted to share with you a little bit of my experience. My friend Ryan Roe has written a spectacular, totally precise rundown of the entire program for ToughPigs, which you should absolutely read. I can’t even try to one-up what Ryan recapped, so instead I’ll just share my thoughts on the proceedings.

First and foremost, I have to mention that the Jerry Nelson Muppet, best known for performing with the Country Trio on The Muppet Show, was on display at the entrance of the museum. The puppet was cleaned up and brought by Bonnie Erickson just for the event. Here’s Jerry below…

Seeing this puppet immediately warmed my heart and set a beautiful tone for everyone coming into the museum. It’s a true testament to Jerry’s impact that I saw nearly everyone who came to the tribute stopping to take a picture with the puppet before or after the event. In fact, here’s a picture of me and the awesome Dave Hulteen, who you may know from his amazing artwork, posing with Jerry:

When I arrived two hours before the tribute, there were already about 15 people waiting to go in. When it was time to go into the auditorium, that line had extended all around the museum lobby, which was incredibly touching. While we were waiting to go in, Bonnie Erickson, Craig Shemin, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Bill Barretta, and Leslie Carrara-Rudolph came out to see each other and meet some of their fans. Bill was especially generous with his time both before and after the tribute.

Once the tribute began and the Muppet fans settled in, all of the Muppet performers entered the auditorium and sat down in reserved seats in the front row. In attendance: Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, Bill Barretta, Steve Whitmire, Louise Gold, Matt Vogel, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, and Leslie Carrara-Rudolph. Other Muppet people who came to the tribute were Craig Shemin, Bonnie Erickson, Larry Mirkin, and Joe Bailey, as well as Jerry Nelson’s wife, brother, daughter, and grandson.

It was truly amazing to have all of these people in one place to remember Jerry with Muppet fans. It would have been sufficient to just show clips of Jerry’s amazing career with introductions from just one of these individuals, but it speaks to the generosity and the love they have for Jerry that they were all willing to come out to celebrate his life.

Each of the speakers who came up spoke on different aspects of Jerry’s life, leading to video packages prepared by The Jim Henson Legacy just for this tribute. Stephanie D’Abruzzo spoke on the many, many voices and characters Jerry portrayed, leading to a clip package of 150 different characters. Fran Brill talked about and presented clips from Jerry’s long tenure on Sesame Street. Craig Shemin introduced a very special clip of Snuffy talking directly to the audience about Jerry, calling him “Dad” and thanking him for everything. Matt Vogel talked about Floyd Pepper, the ultimate in cool. Dave Goelz discussed Jerry’s life when Fraggle Rock began, as well as his four main characters on the show. Bill Barretta discussed working with Jerry on Muppet Treasure Island and showed clips of Jerry’s musical Muppets. Louise Gold spoke through tears about how much the internet showed Jerry that he was beloved, which led to a clip package of extremely rare pieces, including a performance from the Sesame StreetSeason 23 wrap party. Bonnie Erickson was the last speaker, and she read elegies from Fraggle Rock producer Duncan Kenworthy and Muppet writer Jim Lewis.

Every speaker built upon he last with beautiful sentiment and charm. Dave Goelz and Bill Barretta shared a few hilarious moments as Dave accidentally called Gobo, Gonzo, to the extreme laughter of the entire auditorium. This led Bill to go onstage and remind Dave of who played who. It was a truly funny moment that reminded us of how fun the Muppet performers have when they’re together.

The most moving speaker was Louise Gold, who traveled all the way from England to come celebrate Jerry. She fought tears the entire time and I’m sure it caused more than a few tears to flow in the audience as well. It was clear how much love and respect she has for Jerry, and it reminded us all of how much we respect him as well. The clip package that followed her piece was incredible, with extremely rare clips including the Country Trio on The Dick Cavett Show, Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and Jerry on various talk shows, and Jerry and Louise singing “Friendship” at the wrap party for Sesame Street Season 23. That final moment was the most incredible and probably never-before-seen. I got to speak to Louise briefly afterwards and she was the sweetest person you could possibly imagine. It was so wonderful of her to come.

The greatest piece of video shown, however, was without a doubt the special message from Snuffy. You could tell that Marty Robinson, who was unfortunately unable to attend, was expressing his real feelings for Jerry through Snuffy. I really can’t do it justice… so you should just watch the video, taken by YouTube user Squigiman, below:


Throughout the entire tribute, it was clear that everyone there adored Jerry. The laughter that filled the room during the clip packages, the singing along that occurred, the chorus of “Aww” during the entire program… it was just clear that Jerry had affected everyone there. At the beginning of the program, The Jim Henson Legacy gave everyone in attendance three extremely special gifts: a button with Jerry’s likeness, a poster featuring Jerry (seen at right) from Sesame Workshop, and a DVD showcasing the recording session for Jerry’s album Truro Daydreams. The DVD is positively incredible, and hopefully Craig Shemin will continue to upload those videos online soon.

All in all, this was an incredibly special, moving tribute. It was such an honor to be in attendance there to celebrate the life and career of Jerry Nelson. To all the Muppet fans I met there, it was such a delight to talk with all of you. I thank you, and I know that The Jim Henson Legacy and the family of Jerry Nelson all thank you for being there to pay your respects. And last of all, I thank Jerry Nelson… for being such a true inspiration.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier,

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