The cute, little red monster has been a huge part of Sesame Street for more than 30 years, and is one of the educational show’s most beloved characters. Here’s a look behind the bright-red fur and orange nose.
Elmo’s birthday is February 3, and he is perpetually three-and-a-half years old.
While many Sesame Street characters are created to meet a specific need (e.g. Julia represents children on the autism spectrum), Elmo began life as a generic puppet, a background character in the early 1970s, and as a speaking character in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At one point, Caroll "Big Bird" Spinney voiced Elmo, who was then known as "Baby Monster." In the documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey, Sesame Street show writer Nancy Sans noted that Elmo began as “red puppet lying around and the cast would pick him up sometimes and try to create a personality, but nothing seemed to materialize.”
Finding a Voice
Elmo took off in popularity when Kevin Clash took over voicing and puppeteering the character in 1984. Using a falsetto with his light Baltimore accent gave the puppet a new life.
The World of “Elmo’s World”
Elmo is one of the few characters in Sesame Street’s 50-year-run to get their own dedicated solo segment. A consistent feature of the show since the late 1990s, “Elmo’s World” took place in Elmo’s room, depicted as a fantastical, crayon-drawn wonderland. “Elmo’s World” involved Elmo interacting with viewers as he talked to his pet goldfish, Dorothy, and his mobile smartphone friend, Smartie, about the topic of the day. The show also features the mime-meets-vaudeville talents of Mr. Noodle, and/or Mr. Noodle’s brother, Mr. Noodle (portrayed by stars Bill Irwin and the late Michael Jeter, respectively).
So Many Elmos
Elmo has a big family! Throughout his years on Sesame Street, viewers have met his mother Mae, his father Louie, his aunt Jill, his country cousin Elmer, and his uncle Furgus Fuzz (a character on the British co-production, The Furchester Hotel.)
Support Our Troops
In 2006, Sesame Workshop launched Talk, Listen, Connect: Deployments to support military families. Elmo’s dad, Louie, had to go away and the story of how they stayed connected helped families deal with deployments.
Elmo is the only nonhuman to testify before Congress. In 2010, Elmo appeared before the Education Appropriations subcommittee to seek support for the funding of music education programs. He said, "Please Congress, help Elmo's friends find the music in them. I love you Congress."
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