Happy Birthday, Elmo!

Did you get the tweet yesterday from Sesame Street? It was Elmo's birthday! He's three and a half, of course. (He's always three and a half!)

Not to quibble with producers of PBS's landmark children's series (which celebrated its own 40th birthday in 2009), but Elmo's been on TV since 1985. So much for those math skills that Sesame Street's been teaching two generations of children!

Still, Elmo is definitely worth celebrating. When my own children were babies, they'd snap to attention at the sound of Elmo's voice. Grover and Cookie Monster were okay, but something about this bright red Muppet (with the helium-inflected vocal delivery) sent their little ExerSaucers spinning toward the TV. And when Tickle Me Elmo hit stores in 1996, his enormous popularity made the giggly plush toy a must-have.

Not that Elmo doesn't charm grown-ups, too. He's made the talk-show rounds on various networks, and he's the only puppet to testify before the U.S. Congress (he lobbied for increased funding for music education, in April 2002.) Can Barney say the same? Hardly.

Celebrities jump at the chance to appear with him on Sesame Street. When Elmo's friend Mr. Robert De Niro visits Sesame Street for a lesson about imagination, Elmo asks him about roles he plays. "Well, Elmo, I can imagine I'm a New York City taxi driver, an out-of -hape boxer, or a cabbage." "Oh, oh! Do the cabbage! Do the cabbage!" cries Elmo.

"Gimme four!" cries Ricky Gervais, slapping skin (or fur) with Elmo during a visit to the Street. In another segment, he sings Elmo to sleep -- almost. "Lay your fuzzy little head down," he coos, singing a gentle lullaby about the letter "N" (gentle, that is, until the rollicking chorus: "N goes na-na-na-na-na!")

Today, Elmo is a celebrity himself. Last week, when Christina Aguilera threw a birthday party for her two-year-old son, Max, Elmo was the guest of honor. Clearly, he's the one A-listers call when they need some real star power.

Happy Birthday, Elmo!

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