The Night Thread of Muppeteer Richard Hunt (08/27)

Born in 1951 in New York City, American puppeteer Richard Hunt was best known as a Muppet performer on Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and Fraggle Rock. Hunt, who was openly gay, had been doing weather reports at a radio station, and got his job as a puppeteer at the age of eighteen by cold-calling Henson Associates for an audition. As his mother recalled:

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!”

Hunt became a full-time puppeteer on Sesame Street in 1972, and was a main performer on all five seasons of The Muppet Show. His signature Muppet characters included Scooter, Statler, Beaker, and Janice. He also shared the role of Miss Piggy with Frank Oz in The Muppet Show’s first season. (Given Miss Piggy’s status as a gay icon, this seems especially fitting.) Hunt was able to include sly winks and references into his work, including the earliest hints of the subtext-heavy relationship between Beaker and Bunsen. (When the also-openly-gay Rudolf Nureyev guested on the Muppet Show, he briefly flirted with Hunt backstage.)

Hunt passed away in January 1992 at the age of 40, from HIV/AIDS-related complications. The Muppet Christmas Carol movie is dedicated in his memory, and panels were created in his honour for the NAMES AIDS Memorial Quilt project.