Uncle Deadly is often seen as a “one-off” character who acted as a “horror” character compared to his cute and cuddly counterparts. Between the 2011 “The Muppets” film and the 2015 television series of the same name, Uncle Deadly has made a triumphant comeback into the world of the Muppets and become popular enough to win the 2016 Muppet Madness Tournament, beating Fozzie Bear, one of the most beloved Muppet characters of all time.
“The Phantom of the Muppet Show” as he became known as in the Twiggy episode of “The Muppet Show”, actually made his official debut two episodes prior, for the Vincent Price episode in a sketch called “House of Horrors.” Performed by Jerry Nelson, Uncle Deadly is the “beautiful assistant” to Vincent Price’s character, who arrives at a summer cottage looking for a room for the night. Fozzie Bear and Gonzo rented the cottage for a vacation, except Gonzo got the ad from “Wampire Veekly” and the two learn from Uncle Deadly that when midnight strikes, his master turns into a screaming, maniacal, demonic, blood-lusting animal. It just so happens though that tonight is New Year’s Eve and instead his master turns into Jack Parnell, conductor for “The Muppet Show” orchestra. Deadly’s appearance here was mainly to act as the creepy but comedic sidekick to Vincent Price for the sketch.
Uncle Deadly’s backstory was highlighted in the Twiggy episode of “The Muppet Show”, in which everyone backstage is being terrorized by “The Phantom of the Muppet Show”, and Kermit isn’t buying it. Until Kermit learns that the Phantom is none other than Uncle Deadly, a monster-actor who performed in the theater years ago and vowed never to perform there again after being killed by the critics. Deadly also vowed to never let anyone else perform there and warns the Muppets to “Leave or be doomed!” When Deadly leaves, Kermit and the other Muppets discover the phantom was all a joke when they find George the Janitor wearing an old mask. Except just as everyone calms down, Uncle Deadly returns and the Muppets run off in different directions, as Uncle Deadly exclaims, “That may have been one of the greatest performances of my career.”
Uncle Deadly continued to make appearances in a few musical numbers on the show, as well as in the Muppet Melodrama sketches in the third season alongside Miss Piggy and Wayne. While he didn’t have any major Muppet movie appearances, he did appear in the final group scenes at the end of “The Muppet Movie” and “The Muppets Take Manhattan.” He also made an appearance on “The Tonight Show” in 1979 when Kermit the Frog hosted and reunited him with his “Muppet Show” co-star Vincent Price. In a 2000 interview with Muppet writers Jim Lewis, Kirk Thatcher and John Derevlany, they mentioned that one of the projects they had in development was a “Goosebumps-style” TV show called “Uncle Deadly’s House of Badness.” The project didn’t go anywhere unfortunately. Jerry Nelson said in a 2010 interview on The Muppet Mindset that Uncle Deadly was his tribute to horror movie actor John Carradine.
In 2011, after going unused for 20 years, Uncle Deadly returned in “The Muppets” as the second-in-command to Tex Richman, alongside Bobo the Bear. Uncle Deadly realizes his mistake helping Richman demolish the Muppet Theater and declares that he too is a Muppet, forcing Richman off the theater roof before he can cut the wires on the transmission tower and cut the telethon broadcast. He then joins the Muppets for the finale version of “Life’s a Happy Song.” He later appeared in “Muppets Most Wanted” as the organist at Miss Piggy’s wedding.
Uncle Deadly’s most prominent role to date is that of Wardrobe Supervisor for Miss Piggy on the 2015 TV series, “The Muppets.” He comes off as somewhat more flamboyant, and is the comedic foil for Miss Piggy to play off of during her time apart from Kermit. Deadly takes great care to ensure Miss Piggy never knows her dress size and even develops a close relationship to her adopted Magellanic penguin chick named Gloria Estefan.
So now, in 2016, we have witnessed a Muppet comeback like never before. Uncle Deadly went from the depths of Muppet obscurity to a prominent cast member on the new television series. Why has Uncle Deadly quickly risen in the ranks to the likes of Kermit the Frog and even Fozzie Bear, as proven in the Muppet Madness tournament? I think for one thing, he attracts a different group of viewers. Uncle Deadly doesn’t look like his Muppet friends. He has a dark, horror movie monster inspired appearance that makes him look like he would better belong in the Universal monster group then the Muppets. I also think, especially in the new series, Uncle Deadly portrays himself as a stereotypical “gay best friend” to Piggy. I’m not implying in any way what any Muppet’s sexuality may be, but Deadly’s fondness for fashion and his close friendship with Miss Piggy simply makes his character more interesting, especially considering his horrific physical appearance. Have we seen the last of Uncle Deadly? Absolutely not! I think the character’s rise to stardom has only just begun, and he has the ability to attract a much larger audience into the Muppet universe.
Congratulations, Uncle Deadly!