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SYFY WIRE obituary

‘I’m Just a Bill’ Schoolhouse Rock singer Jack Sheldon passes away

By Benjamin Bullard
Schoolhouse Rock Just a Bill

Jack Sheldon, who helped raise a TV generation as the voice behind Schoolhouse Rock educational children’s anthems like “Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just a Bill,” has reportedly passed away at the age of 88.

According to Variety, the musician, known in his earlier career as the longtime trumpet player and sidekick on The Merv Griffin Show, died on Dec. 27. Sheldon, a versatile jazz artist and singer who spent 16 years with Griffin, joined the ABC animated kids’ series of singalong PSAs in the 1970s, in the process launching a pop culture phenomenon that he continued to playfully engage through the 1990s and early 2000s. 

In addition to singing his memorable Schoolhouse Rock characters into kids’s hearts (and memories) in the 1970s, Sheldon also played the standalone animated character of Louie the Lightning Bug in a series of 1980s PSAs, cautioning kids in his gravelly, soulful trademark voice — “You gotta stay away from power lines!” The character made a comeback in 2001, with Sheldon recording new voiceovers for Louie over the original animations. 

Musician and actor Jack Sheldon
The pull of nostalgia for adults raised on Sheldon’s voice opened the way in the ensuing decades for more voice work on animated comedy series like The Simpsons and Family Guy. Sheldon showed up on a 1996 episode of The Simpsons to take on the form of a comedically-massaged parody of his Schoolhouse Rock “Bill” cartoon, and gamely stepped back into character again in 2001 for a Family Guy episode in which he voiced the part of an anti-smoking bill up for a vote before the U.S. Congress. In 2002, Sheldon joined in to once again lend his voice for an updated revival of Schoolhouse Rock.

Throughout his career, Sheldon played a variety of acting, musical, and voice roles outside the milieu of his animated educational work. He was behind the trumpet for the Oscar-winning “Shadow of Your Smile” song from the 1965 movie The Sandpiper, and starred in the short-lived 1966 CBS comedy series Run, Buddy, Run. Sheldon also showed up on multiple episodes of Dragnet in the late 1960s and, in 2004, appeared in two episodes (one of them alongside Merv Griffin) of ALF’s Hit talk Show on TV Land. He also contributed trumpet work for Francis Ford Coppola’s One from the Heart (1982). 

In 2008, Sheldon was the focus of a critically-praised retrospective documentary titled Trying to Get Good: The Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon. And heads up, Star Trek: The Next Generation fans — the next time you’re rewatching “11001001,” the 15th episode from the show’s first season, pay attention to the pianist lounging in the Holodeck’s recreation of a Bourbon Street bar: that’s Sheldon.

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