Friday, August 24, 2012

A warm and fuzzy goodbye to Jerry...

As I post this, the news is barely breaking that Jerry Nelson, one of the founding Muppeteers of Jim Henson's troupe, has passed away. Jerry was easily the most versatile performer in The Muppets, able to play the tiniest, cutest, meekest creature, to the most overblown, loudmouthed, lumbering oaf with just a flick of the wrist and vocal chord. In short, Jerry was one of my favorites, and a huge inspiration to me in terms of acting and character creation.

About ten years ago, my girlfriend Laura (now my wife), told me she had a friend who was a Muppet fan. She asked if I'd draw my three favorite Muppeteers performing their characters, and she'd send them to him as a gift. I knew who to draw right off the bat--Dave Goelz with Gonzo, Bill Barretta with Pepe the Prawn, and Jerry Nelson with Floyd Pepper.

A few months later, my birthday came around, and the best surprise I've ever received was waiting for me. Laura had actually sent those Muppeteer caricatures I drew to the Henson workshop in New York (this was before the Disney acquisition) to get autographed by the Muppeteers themselves, and had them returned as a birthday gift for me. Each of the performers signed their drawing, and Jerry took the extra time to include a short greeting, he drew Floyd's name in a musical flourish, and he dated the signature. As a lifelong Muppet fan, it was pure gold to me. It also convinced me that Laura was the perfect girl for me. Ten years later and she's still proving it again and again.

I'd known for awhile now that Jerry's health was failing. He'd retired from the Muppets, and only occasionally showed up on the set of Sesame Street to read his character's lines while another puppeteer performed his characters. It was fortunate that Muppet fans for to hear Jerry one more time as the announcer in the recent Muppet Movie.

A couple months back, I received an update from Twitter, saying JLNelson was following me. As far as I knew, this was just some random fan of my work. I clicked on the profile, and saw it was none other than Jerry Nelson himself. That was so touching to me. Jerry remembered my work. He remembered that caricature I drew, and he remembered signing it. He reached out to me again. Needless to say, I followed him right back, though his posts were getting less and less frequent.

So hearing of Jerry's passing late last night just brought all these things to the surface for me. The Muppeteers were gods to me. and now one of the last of that pantheon have fallen. But as I sat there taking it in, I looked up on my studio wall, and there was the autographed cartoon I drew of Jerry, reminding me of my hero, and continuing to inspire me and my work. It's a comfort to me to have it in my life, just as it's been a comfort to have Jerry in my life.


Keith said...

Wonderful story, Jay.

Danny Limor said...

Jay, you make-a me cry.

Lee V Call said...

This moving story had me in tears. Aren't we all so thankful for creatives like these who have inspired so much in all of us? Thanks, Jay. Just so you know, you're as much of an inspiration to me as these guys!