Jerry L. Nelson was born in Oklahoma on July 10, 1934. Soon afterwards, Nelson moved to Washington, D.C. Nelson got his first puppeteering job from Bil Baird, who is most famous for his puppeteering in the "The Lonely Goatherd" sequence in The Sound of Music. Nelson first began working with the Muppets on The Jimmy Dean Show in 1965, playing Rowlf the Dog's right hand. For the next year, Nelson continued to work with the Muppets in variety shows and commercials, but in 1966, Jim Henson had to reduce the amount of work and Nelson was let go.
When help was needed for the second season of Sesame Street, Jerry Nelson was brought back on. On the show, Nelson played such characters as, Sherlock Hemlock, The Amazing Mumford, and Herry Monster, but by far, Nelson's most famous character was Count von Count, the vampire who taught math on the show. He also was the first puppeteer to perform Mr. Snuffleupagus, Big Bird's imaginary friend. After his beginning work on Sesame Street, Nelson was brought back on to the Muppet Show, where he played many minor roles as well as Sgt. Floyd Pepper and Camilla the Chicken. When Richard Hunt was brought on to the Muppets, Nelson acted as his mentor and the two ran several characters together. Hunt would go on to play such characters as Scooter and Beaker. Nelson continued to work with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, though he worked on several other shows, including Fraggle Rock and Emmet Otter's Jug-Band.
Nelson had one daughter, Christine, from his first marriage, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. When the family found out about her disease, Nelson took a large amount of time off of his work with the Muppets to spend time with her. Christine also had a cameo appearance in The Great Muppet Caper and Jim Henson gave her a speaking part so that she could become a member of the actors' union before she died in 1982.
In 2004, Nelson stated that he would no longer puppeteer due to health issues. He continued to voice his characters until his death on August 23, 2012 due to emphysema. Jerry Nelson is on our list because (1) he helped to form both Sesame Street and The Muppet Show and (2) he played characters who are famous and known by generations of Americans and people around the world.