Richard Hunt (August 17, 1951 - January 7, 1992) was a longtime Muppet performer who is known for his many characters, his accomplished singing voice, and his warm backstage personality. Hunt brought many popular characters to life, including Scooter, Beaker, Janice, Statler, Sweetums, Junior Gorg, Don Music and Forgetful Jones.
Hunt was born in New York City, the second of five children and the first of two sons. The family eventually moved to Closter, New Jersey some years later.
Because everyone in his family had worked in show business at some point, Hunt always felt he'd end up in entertainment, too. While in middle school and high school, he put on puppet shows for local children, and he was a fan of the then-fledgling Muppets from a young age. "I'd drop anything to watch them," he said, "I thought they were weird."
After high school graduation and a four-month stint of doing weather reports at a local radio station, Hunt had his first inkling that he might join the Muppets. Hunt's mother, Jane, recalled Hunt's first meeting with Jim Henson:
“Richard had been watching Sesame Street, and he realized there might be an opportunity there. So he went to a phone booth, called Henson Associates, and asked them, cold, if they were hiring puppeteers. Amazingly, Jim was auditioning people that very day. So Richard went right over to 67th Street. He was ushered into a room, and there were Frank and Jim and Jerry and a box full of puppets. "They threw a puppet at me and said sit down," Richard later reported to me. "It was incredible. We just all talked together! We knew right away we had the same sense of humor... And I think they liked me!"”
His first project was The Great Santa Claus Switch in 1970, along with Fran Brill. A few weeks later, he was invited to be in a workshop production. The newcomer was so good, Henson asked him to work a Muppet appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Again he scored high marks, and in June 1972, Richard Hunt was hired full-time on Sesame Street.
Hunt mostly performed background characters in early specials. One of his first major performances was as Taminella Grinderfall in The Frog Prince, puppeteering the character while Jerry Juhl performed the voice. He also performed Mildred and Big Mouse in The Muppets Valentine Show, and many minor characters in The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence. He also performed Wisss on Saturday Night Live, and Charlie Beaver in Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas.
Sesame Street Works
During his first few seasons on Sesame Street, Hunt was basically a background puppeteer, assisting other performers with characters (manipulating the right hands of certain characters, and performing the back half of Mr. Snuffleupagus) or performing characters to pre-recorded tracks. Hunt gradually became one of the main Muppeteers, performing such characters as Sully, Gladys the Cow, Don Music, and Forgetful Jones. He also appeared in the flesh on Episode 1576 as Cedric the birdwatcher, alongside Madeline Kahn.
Although a main performer on the show, none of Richard Hunt's Sesame Street characters became major characters in the same way as Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Elmo (who Hunt actually performed as a minor character, 1984-1985). Even after being a main puppeteer, Hunt would often perform in Sesame Street productions (such as Christmas Eve on Sesame Street and Don't Eat the Pictures) where he didn't perform character voices.
Richard Hunt served as a mentor to newer puppeteers. When a new puppeteer joined the Sesame set, Hunt was the first to haze and initiate them into the group. Despite this, he always took new puppeteers to lunch, as well as anyone on the set who wanted to join him.  He was known to often read the newspaper as he was performing a character and doing that character's lines.
Muppet Show Antics
Richard Hunt was one of the main performers on The Muppet Show, and one of five performers to be a regular performer on all five seasons. His main character was Scooter, but he also performed Beaker, Statler, Janice, and Sweetums. During the first season, he shared the role of Miss Piggy with Frank Oz, but by the end of the first season, Piggy became Oz's main character, and Hunt no longer performed her.
Richard Hunt has also been noted for his fine singing voice. As Scooter, he sang such songs as "Six String Orchestra" and "There's a New Sound." He also performed Wayne, who was part of the singing duo Wayne and Wanda, and though the two stopped appearing after the second season, Wayne eventually came back to make solo appearances every now and then, singing such songs as "Catch a Falling Star" and "For Me and My Goyle." Despite Hunt's singing voice and the fact that Janice was a musician, Janice seldom sang lead vocals in songs. She did have two major lead-singing performances, singing "With a Little Help From My Friends" and "Rockin' Robin."
In the 1981 book Of Muppets and Men, Christopher Finch described Hunt's endless energy and humor. "He seems to get more unadulterated pleasure from performing than anyone else in the organization," Finch wrote. "When he is not working on camera, he is apt to have Scooter or Beaker or Janice -- anyone -- on his arm for the purpose of entertaining visitors to the studio. If there are no visitors around, he will attempt to entertain his co-workers... Like Jerry Nelson, he is a versatile on-camera performer, but his importance to the show derives also from his off-camera personality. He makes the crew laugh, jokes with the guest star, clowns for the shop personnel. He is one of the chief reasons for the loose atmosphere that exists around Studio D despite the pressure and the slow pace that are endemic to television production."
On Fraggle Rock, Richard Hunt had two major characters, Junior Gorg and Gunge. He also performed many minor and one-shot guest characters, and he originally performed The Storyteller Fraggle (before Terry Angus took over). Richard Hunt was most involved with the show during its first season, since unlike Sprocket or the main five Fraggles, his characters weren't needed for every (or almost every) episode. After that season, as the background performers began to do more character voices on the show, Hunt performed less frequently on the series, spending his extra time on Sesame Street. According to Terry Angus, "After the first season, Richard didn't come in as much, because his characters weren't really called for that often and all of us Canadians were given a chance to do characters every now and then which gave Richard an easier time of it. Plus, he was going down to work on Sesame Street."
Richard Hunt also assisted in the audition process for background puppeteers on Fraggle Rock. He made his directorial debut with the fifth season episode "The Honk of Honks." He also made a cameo as himself ("The Boss" director) in Fraggles Look for Jobs, the show's wrap tape.
Richard Hunt and Jerry Nelson
Richard Hunt's characters were often paired with those of Jerry Nelson. On Sesame Street, Hunt's Sully was the construction worker sidekick to Nelson's Biff. Nelson's Floyd Pepper was often paired with Janice in musical numbers. Floyd also shared lead vocals with Scooter in the "Mr. Bassman" number. Hunt performed Sweetums alongside Nelson's Robin the Frog in the song "Two Lost Souls". Hunt also performed Junior Gorg, the son of Nelson's Pa Gorg.
Additionally, the two performers shared the role of the Two-Headed Monster. They also play the children in the Twiddlebug family with Hunt performing the son, Timmy Twiddlebug, and Nelson performing the daughter, Tina Twiddlebug. Another notable team-up included Hunt's role as Gunge, normally paired with Marjory the Trash Heap (a Nelson character), in addition to Dave Goelz's Philo character. Both performers had characters named after them in the band Little Jerry and the Monotones, with Hunt performing Rockin' Richard alongside Nelson's Little Jerry.
Jerry Nelson recalled the relationship:
“Richard came into the company when he was pretty young, and I kind-of took Richard under my wing, when he first came in, since Frank and Jim were sort-of a team and I was like a straight man or foil that worked off their characters. So when Richard came in, we got to a point where we would work really well together. When one of us would start to go somewhere, the other would know what was happening.”
During the late 1980s, Richard Hunt was still active in new productions and performing new characters. He performed Tug Monster on the short-lived Little Muppet Monsters series, and The Wild Impresario on the short-lived Ghost of Faffner Hall. In specials, he performed Lugsy in The Tale of the Bunny Picnic and Belmont in The Christmas Toy.
Hunt has also occasionally appeared on-screen in movies and television productions. He made an on-screen cameo as a taxi driver in The Great Muppet Caper, he played the role of Wilson in Trading Places (which also featured fellow Muppeteer Frank Oz), and he played the role of Larry in Oxford Blues. He also played the role of Del in Jim Henson's failed pilot Puppetman. He also spent an hour entertaining the audience during the taping of The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show. In addition to directing the aforementioned Fraggle Rock episode, Richard Hunt also directed the 1988 direct-to-video production Sing-Along, Dance-Along, Do-Along and received directing credits in Elmo's Sing-Along Guessing Game and The Best of Elmo.
Hunt died of AIDS-related complications in 1992. Among his last productions were The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, Muppet*Vision 3D, Sing, Hoot & Howl with the Sesame Street Animals, and Muppet Sing Alongs: Billy Bunny's Animal Songs (the last of which was released in 1993, one year after his death). Several episodes of Sesame Street's 23rd season featuring new Hunt performances aired posthumously as well.
In the period immediately following his death, few of Hunt's characters (with the notable exceptions of Beaker, Statler, and Sweetums) were recast with new performers. Scooter was retired and absent as a character in all Muppet productions until Muppets from Space. On Sesame Street, characters originated by Hunt have usually appeared in background cameos, though over time, some (such as Gladys the Cow) have been gradually recast and made recurring appearances. By the 2000s, most of Hunt's main Muppet Show characters were inherited by other major performers like Steve Whitmire and David Rudman.
According to his page on FindAGrave.com, Hunt was cremated. Some ashes were spread into the flower garden at the Hunt family home in New Jersey. Many panels were created in his honor for the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt, including one created by his friends in The Muppet Workshop.
Jon Stone, former director of Sesame Street, said this at the time of Hunt's death:
“It’s impossible to imagine a world without Richard. He came to us a wide-eyed eighteen year old and grew into a master puppeteer and inspired teacher. No one ever had a more manic love of the outrageous and absurd; no one could ever make me laugh the way Richard could. A generation has grown up absorbing Richard’s art, and I have to believe that every one of them is a smarter, funnier, stronger, sillier, more generous person because of him.”
The Richard Hunt Spirit Award is annually presented at the Sesame Street wrap party to the cast member who best honors the generosity in spirit and dedicated work of Richard Hunt in their actions on set. The 2010 winner was Leslie Carrara-Rudolph.
- The Muppet Show Characters: African Mask (Mountain), Mutt, Beaker (1977-1991), Behemoth (episode 119), Billy the Bear (episode 401 and episode 503), Bobby Benson, Blue Frackle (episode 103, episode 115, episode 202, episode 218, episode 307), Bubba, Catgut, Clive Cahuenga, Contender 980116, Cow (episode 121), Doctor Pig, Droop (episode 220), George, Geri and the Atrics (False Teeth), Ghost, Gingerbread Man, Gladys, The Gogolala Jubilee Jugband (Purple Whatnot), Gorgon Heap (episode 116), Hat, Janice (1977-1991), Lenny the Lizard (episode 208), Lubbock Lou (occasionally), Luncheon Counter Monster (episode 223), Lyle the Dog (episode 523), Male Ghost, The March Hare, Mean Mama (episodes 201, 211, and 515), Mildred Huxtetter (episode 109), Miss Kitty (episode 119), Miss Piggy (1976, occasionally), Mel, Paul Revere (legs only), Penguin (episode 320), Quongo (episode 509), Ronald Duck (episode 220), Salzburg Sauerkraut Singer, Scooter (1976-1991), The Showman, Statler (1976-1991), Sweetums (1975-1991), Tiny, Wayne, Winny, Shirley (episode 218), Zelda Rose (episode 308)
- Sesame Street Characters: Aristotle, Baby Bobby, The Beetles' Lead Singer, Billy the Grownup, Brad, Bruno, Captain Vegetable (1983-1984), Cheerful, Counting Service Man, Dip, Don Music, Elmo (1984-1985), Farmer Fowler, Fenwick la Touche, Ferlinghetti Donizetti (1980-1984), Flying Fish, Forgetful Jones, Forgettinest Jones, Furline Huskie, Gilbert, Gladys the Cow, Grandpa Count, Grandpa Grouch, Green Alphabeat, Grenadier Guardsman, Harry (The Wonderful World of T-Shirts), Harvey Monster (occasionally), John, Kermit the Forg ("We Are All Monsters"), King Gerry's Doctor, Lavender Frazzletone, Lead singer from "Movin' On", Leaky, Leo the Party Monster, a lettuce from "Grow High Grow Low", Large Lavender Live Hand Librarian, Larry Rhymie, Little Red Riding Hood (1970s), Madame Schwartzhead, Maurice Monster (occasionally), McDougal Monster, Mr. Moses, Mr. Snuffleupagus (back half, occasionally), Mrs. Bolinski (occasionally), Old MacDonald (1980s), a pear from "Bilingual Fruit Song", Placido Flamingo, Potter Piper, Radish Dude, "Readers of the Open Range" Pumpkin cowboy, Richard, Rockin' Richard, Sonny Friendly (1986-1992), Spaceship Surprise Mate, Stan, Stuie Monster, Sully, Timmy Twiddlebug, Tommy, Tough Eddie (1980s), Two-Headed Monster, Umeko's Friends, Victor, Willy Nilly, Witch, the Martians, The Young Woman Who Lives in a Hat, Zero
- Fraggle Rock: Gunge, Junior Gorg, Beige Fraggle, Firechief Fraggle, Flex Doozer, Gillis Fraggle, Herkimer Fraggle, Mean Genie, Mudwell the Mudbunny, The Odd Old Man, Storyteller Fraggle (episode 108 only), Turbo Doozer, Venerable Sage Lambo, Wizard
- The Great Santa Claus Switch: Bing
- The Ed Sullivan Show: Harrison
- The Frog Prince: Taminella Grinderfall (puppetry only)
- The Muppets Valentine Show: Giant Mouse, Mildred Huxtetter
- Saturday Night Live: Wisss
- One to One: The Queen of Phumph
- The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence: Crazy Harry, Hoggie Marsh, Lust, Mel
- Peter Alexander präsentiert Spezialitäten #10: Bert
- Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas: Charlie Beaver, George Rabbit, Fred Lizard
- Little Muppet Monsters: Tug Monster, Beaker, "Muppet Sports Shorts" Narrator
- Follow That Bird: Gladys the Cow, Grouch Diner Patrons, Various
- Country Music with the Muppets: Mutt, Sheep
- The Tale of the Bunny Picnic: Lugsy
- The Christmas Toy: Belmont
- Puppetman: Del (on-camera role), Gertha, Earl
- Inner Tube: Crasher
- A Muppet Family Christmas: The Snowman
- The Ghost of Faffner Hall: The Wild Impresario
- The Cosby Show: Disagreeable Sandwich
- Muppet Sing Alongs: Billy Bunny's Animal Songs: Edgar Bear, Raccoon 1
- The Muppet Christmas Carol is dedicated "In loving memory of Jim Henson and Richard Hunt".
- The book Jim Henson: The Works and the Sesame Street album We Are All Earthlings, both released in 1993, were dedicated to the memory of Richard Hunt.
- Sometimes, Richard Hunt would entertain visitors on the set by performing a character ordinarily played by another puppeteer, assuming the voice and personality of whichever puppet was on-hand.
- ↑ Most online resources incorrectly list Hunt's birthday as August 16th. For more, see this article's archived talk page.
- ↑ The Muppet Show press kit
- ↑ Jim Henson: The Works, Christopher Finch, 1993.
- ↑ Ask Henson.com question 60
- ↑ Angus, Terry. Muppet Central's Interview with Terry Angus
- ↑ Angus, Terry. Muppet Central's Interview with Terry Angus
- ↑ Nelson, Jerry 
- ↑ Angus, Terry Muppet Central tribute
- ↑ Hunt's Find A Grave page
- ↑ USA Today obituary
- ↑ 1/17/1971 - 'Ed Sullivan Show - String Quartet' | Jim Henson's Red Book
- ↑ Of Muppets and Men
- ↑ Jim Henson: The Works, Christopher Finch, 1993.