David Smyrl, better known as Mr. Handford of Sesame Street, has passed away at the age of 80. His wife, Cheryl, states that he was diagnosed with lung cancer in January. He died on Tuesday at Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. Smyrl appeared in a recurring role on Sesame Street from 1990 to 1998.
The Emmy award-winning actor’s wife spoke very fondly of him, according to CBS News.
“He was funny. I could say so many good things about him. He was loved by so many people. He was a mentor to a lot of children. He was a family man, loyal, true and faithful.”
The New York Times reports that Smyrl began his television career in New York in the 1970s. He both wrote and was an actor on several TV shows over the years. David also had a short stint on Broadway. He wrote for the popular long-running series Benson and also both wrote for and acted on The Cosby Show.
David Smyrl won his role on Sesame Street by acting out a script in which he played a firefighter who had just finished fighting a fire. In that role, he was exhausted and spoke of retiring and buying a small store which eventually turned out to be Hooper’s Store. He replaced actor Leonard Jackson who played Mr. Handford with a grumpier edge to the character. Smyrl frequently sang in his role as Mr. Handford.
Prior to his writing and acting career, Smyrl served in the United States Army during the 1950s, according to the Daily Mail. During that time he was stationed in both South Carolina and Texas.
In the 1960s, he performed as a poet in Greenwich Village, New York. He also opened an acting and fencing school during that time.
Smyrl met his wife, Cheryl, in 1975, but they did not marry until 1992. They built a strong friendship over the years prior to their marriage.
Sesame Street is a long-running children’s television series which first aired in 1969. It is known for its educational content which is skillfully taught through the aid of Jim Henson’s Muppets. Its opening theme song, “Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?,” is readily recognized by children all over the United States.
The backdrop for Mr. Handford’s character, Hooper’s Store, started out in 1951 as a general store. Over the years, the store developed an extensive food menu with dishes suitable for each unique Sesame Street character. It also had a number of goods available for purchase and had birdseed milkshakes, a favorite for Big Bird, a major character in the series.
When Mr. Handford’s character portrayal ended in 1998, no official explanation was given in the series’ storyline for his departure. He last appeared in Season 29, and in Season 30 a different character, Alan, took over running Hooper’s. The Sesame Street website simply stated that Mr. Handford sold the store to Alan.
Smyrl won a total of eight Emmy awards for his contributions to children’s television programming, according to Philly.
In his later years, he extensively volunteered his time to perform at penal institutions, schools, and colleges.
David Smyrl has a long list of career credits that include public performances, television, popular series, Broadway, writing, documentaries, and voice-over work.
Smyrl’s funeral is scheduled for Monday. Viewing will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the funeral service is scheduled from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. He will be funeralized at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd. Burial will be private.
He is survived by both his wife and his stepson, Pancho Scott.
Donations may be made in his name to the American Cancer Society by way of Cancer.org.
[Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images]