Sesame Street Actor David Smyrl Dies At 80

2016 has been a rough year so far when it comes to famous faces passing away, and showbiz has now lost another great. David Smyrl of Sesame Street fame died on March 22 at the age of 80. He’d been diagnosed with lung cancer in only January, so his departure feels all too swift. Still, he’s left behind a wonderful legacy for the children who watched him on Sesame Street.

David Smyrl’s wife Cheryl has stated that her husband passed away at the Lankenau Medical Center outside his native Philadelphia, according to THR. They met in 1975 but remained no more than very close friends until their wedding in 1992.

Born in 1935, he’d been performing in some manner or other since the 1960s when he began sharing his poetry in Greenwich Village. The 70s saw the beginning of his television career with the series Express Yourself. He moved west to California thereafter, working first on the sitcom Benson and then moving on to act and write for The Cosby Show. It was in 1990, however, that David Smyrl made his break that would endear him to children everywhere when he joined the cast of Sesame Street.

David Smyrl played Mr. Handford, who was a retired firefighter that found that he didn’t like retirement enough to sit around and do nothing. He ran Hooper’s Store, and he smiled and sang his way into the hearts of any who tuned in to learn a lesson or two. Mr. Handford never seemed to have a real frown or a harsh word for any of the youngsters who came in to Hooper’s, so he was always an extra bright spot on the show. For a look at Smyrl in his element as Mr. Handford, take a look at his verse about the importance of learning how to read:

David Smyrl's wife shares that he was able to bring such enthusiasm to his role as Mr. Handford because of his love for children. He enjoyed the silliness of the Sesame Street situations and getting to dance with visiting celebrities like Gloria Estefan. Considering that the willingness to get silly is what made him so lovable to kids during his time as  Mr. Handford, 90s youngsters have David Smyrl to thank for a lot of the fun of Sesame Street. He worked on the show from 1990 to 1998, and he was a joy in every episode in which he appeared. He won’t be forgotten. 

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).