David Smyrl, on Sesame Street

David Smyrl, the actor and singer who spent eight years playing kindly corner store proprietor Mr. Handford on Sesame Street, has died. He was 80.

Originally a poet, Smyrl broke into TV work in the ’70s, first working as a writer on the ABC sitcom Benson. After earning a People’s Choice Award for his work on the Robert Guillaume-starring series, Smyrl next secured a gig as the warm-up comic for the massively successful The Cosby Show, on which he occasionally appeared as contractor and handyman Sam Lucas.

In 1991, Smyrl took over the part of Mr. Handford, a retired firefighter who purchased Hooper’s Store from its previous owner, David, played by Leonard Jackson. As opposed to Jackson’s portrayal of the character as a gruff retiree, Smyrl invested Handford with a game, youthful energy, willingly playing along with the Street’s various childlike monsters and giant birds, and lending his vocal talents to a number of the show’s memorable educational songs.

After leaving Sesame Street in 1998, Smyrl continued to work, appearing in films like The Preacher’s Wife and providing voiceover for numerous commercials and animated shorts. He was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year; according to his wife, Cheryl, he died from the disease on Tuesday. “He was loved by so many people,” she told the Associated Press. “He was a mentor to a lot of children. He was a family man, loyal, true, and faithful.”

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