Remembering Richard Hunt
By Gabriel Velez
Years ago during Muppet workshop classes, (where we were being taught the fine art of puppetry). My main teachers were Jane Henson and Richard Hunt. I wish I could say that I knew Richard extremely well, but that would not be true.
The only times I really encountered Richard was at our workshop classes or later on, a few times on the set of "Sesame Street", or at an audition. But there were something about him that amazed me. His INCREDIBLE sense of humor. He was one of these persons that would make you laugh till you cried. And he was a very giving teacher, (as is Jane). He would mix his personal brand of comedy into his puppet class.
Here's an example... One time, there were something like 40 people in the class. One of the persons who came was a Ringling Brothers clown. The clown person came in regular street clothes, but brought with him his bowling pins to demonstrate his juggling abilities, (which was not needed). Richard spotted the bowling pins and called the class to attention. He said, "I am now going to show you a juggler missing his partner." He then took the four or five bowling pins and threw them the length of the rehearsal studio, all crashing like thunder into a wall. He then proceeded to repeat..."a Juggler MISSING his partner." That was a good laugh.
He had also mentioned that his two personal favorite "Muppet Show" episodes were Deborah Harry and Peter Ustinov. He was asked why, and he said that Debbie Harry arrived with a large entourage. And that Peter Ustinov was so incredibly funny, even behind the camera. I remember the last time that I saw "The Muppet Show" with Peter Ustinov on TV. I could clearly hear Richard's laugh off camera.
He mentioned to us that if an episode of "The Muppet Show" took a week to tape, the celebrity guest for that week would only be on the set for one, maybe two days doing their thing, then leave. And then the rest of the puppeteers would continue to tape the remaining segments of the show throughout the week. He did mention how much it was appreciated when a celebrity would decide to hang out with them for the course of the week (when they didn't have to). Unfortunately, he never named who they were.
Once at the season ending "Sesame Street" wrap party, he took the microphone to sing and someone accompanied him on piano. He sang a beautiful, comical song for about 100 of the cast and crew of Sesame Street. Everyone was laughing big-time. The song was something about "How he longs for that beautiful, naked lady he sees from his window every night." And he picked a spot on the upper part of the stage wall that would represent where the naked lady was supposed to be. And he would sing to that area as if she was really there. He was unique!
About six years later, not having worked with the Muppets in years, I was invited to be an extra on "Sesame Street." I had high hopes of seeing Richard and giving him a big bear hug and saying hello. Once on the set, I asked around for him. The first person I asked did not respond to my question. The second person did not either. The third person I asked very hesitantly told me; "Richard is very ill." I asked what was wrong. They knew, but wouldn't say. I asked later again this person and they said, "He will not be coming back to the show." Again I asked what's wrong, and I received no reply.
I was immediately saddened for my funny-comical-teacher-pal. And it didn't take me long to come to the conclusion that he might have AIDS, for this reason... it's the only disease that no one wants to talk about.
I was very somber on my way home that day, reflecting on all the laughs he gave me and the world. When I got home I wrote him a long letter thanking him for his friendship and for sharing his skills with me, and that I wished him the best. I enclosed the letter in a Charlie Brown get well card and forwarded the letter care of the Henson's.
A few months later, I read that he had died... I cried. I hope he got to read my letter before he passed away.
We'll always remember you, Richard Hunt.