He was, as his greatest character would put it, sewenty-eight (ah ah ah).
Nelson gave voice to Count Von Count, Sesame Street's purple-faced, be-fanged arithmomaniac, who since his debut 40 years ago has taught countless children about numbers (and also obsessive-compulsive disorder).
During a very dark time on The Street — or less dark, I suppose, depending on how you look at it — the Count, like many other old-school Sesame Street denizens, was deemed too scary and put on the backburner. His Transylvanian reign yielded to Elmo's squeaky, saccharine third-person monologues and Abby's flying fairy school.
It was during this low-tide period the Cookie Monster famously told kids that cookies are "sometimes" food. Blasphemy!
But happy times have returned. Cookie eats cookies with impunity again. And the Count now has a regular segment: The Number of the Day. Once again, toddlers will mispronounce the number seven, much to the chagrin of their future kindergarten teachers.
I've always loved the Count. His single-minded devotion and bizarre clothing are eccentricities to which a long-time weird kid who turned into an equally weird adult can relate. If the Count has to count everything, it's totally fine that I obsess about lighthouses or batting averages.
Sesame Street is full of strange characters and yet they all get along. Wide-eyed Ernie had no problem working for the Count in his spooky, bat-filled castle (which is actually Belvedere Castle in Central Park).
Indeed, the funny-sounding, goofy obsessive in the odd threads was as welcome on the Street as the most normal monster. (Telly, by the way, is the most normal monster.) Yes, the Count did his main job — teaching us to count — but like Sesame Street at its best, he taught us a life lesson too: It's cool to be weird.
The Children's Television Workshop surely has a succession plan in place. Another voice will carry the Ah-Ah-Ahs for years to come. But it was Jerry Nelson who first made the Count great. The Street is a little sadder today.