Rowlf the Dog

Rowlf the Dog
The Muppets character
First appearance Various Purina dog food commercials (1962)[1]
Created by Jim Henson
Voiced by Katie Leigh (Muppet Babies)
Performed by Jim Henson (1962–90)
Bill Barretta (1996–present)
Species Dog
Gender Male

Rowlf the Dog is a Muppet character, a scruffy brown dog of indeterminate breed, though part Corgi,[2] with a rounded black nose and long floppy ears. He was created and originally performed by Jim Henson. Rowlf is the Muppet Theatre's resident pianist, as well as one of the show's main cast members. Calm and wisecracking, his humor is characterized as deadpan and as such, is one of few Muppets who is rarely flustered by the show's prevalent mayhem. He is very easy going and a fan of classical music (particularly Beethoven) and musicals.

Despite Kermit the Frog often being credited as the iconic Muppet, Rowlf was actually the first known Muppet "star" as a recurring character on The Jimmy Dean Show, first appearing in a telecast on September 19, 1963.

Early history

Rowlf was introduced in 1962 for Purina Dog Chow TV commercials aired in Canada, in which he appeared with Baskerville the Hound. Jim Henson designed Rowlf, and Don Sahlin built him; it was Sahlin's first Muppet construction.[3]

Rowlf rose to popularity as Jimmy Dean's sidekick on The Jimmy Dean Show, performed by Henson and Frank Oz. He was the first Muppet with a regular spot on network television[4] appearing in numerous episodes from 1963[5] to 1966. Jimmy Dean stated that the segments with Rowlf were one of the most popular parts of the show, and that Rowlf drew two thousand fan letters a week.[6]


In 1968, Rowlf appeared with Kermit the Frog on the pitch reel for Sesame Street. At the end of the pitch reel, Rowlf is depicted as being eager to join the Sesame Street cast, while Kermit seems reluctant to do so; ironically, it was Kermit who became a Sesame star, while Rowlf appeared only in one filmed segment and was never a part of the show's regular cast.

In 1976, Rowlf joined the recurring cast of The Muppet Show as the show's pianist. Rowlf also played Dr. Bob, the wisecracking doctor in the recurring medical drama parody skit "Veterinarian's Hospital", alongside nurses Janice and Piggy. Though considered one of the main characters, he rarely interacted with any of the backstage plots involving the shows weekly guest stars.

Rowlf achieved movie stardom with his appearance in The Muppet Movie (1979). The film depicts Rowlf's origin as a musician at a piano bar, who is discovered by Kermit while on his way to Hollywood. In the scene, Rowlf and Kermit sing the duet "I Hope That Somethin' Better Comes Along!", a song about their troubles with women. Afterwards Rowlf leaves the bar and joins Kermit and the other Muppets on their trip to Hollywood in search of fame and fortune. He later plays the harmonica during Gonzo's song "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday."

In 1984, Baby Rowlf debuted playing a toy piano during a musical number in The Muppets Take Manhattan. This fantasy sequence with the Muppets as babies was so popular that it resulted in the successful animated cartoon spinoff, Muppet Babies. He was voiced on that program by Katie Leigh.

Jim Henson's last public performance as Rowlf before his death was as guest on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1990. For several years afterward, the character was retired out of deference to Henson's memory as he was both the first Muppet to achieve popularity and, according to some sources, the character closest to Jim Henson's personality, with his son Brian saying in the introduction to episode 117 of The Muppet Show "Kermit was my father's best known character, but a lot of people think he was more like Rowlf in real life except he couldn't play the piano as well."

Since 1996, Rowlf has been portrayed by puppeteer Bill Barretta. Barretta has gradually transitioned into the role. Rowlf uttered his first word since Henson's death in the second episode of Muppets Tonight. Rowlf had several lines of dialogue in The Muppet Show Live in 2001 and also spoke two lines of dialogue ("Hey, Kermit!" and "Yeah! Heh, heh. Oh!") in It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie in 2002. In 2005, however, Rowlf had a 190-word monologue in the second episode of Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony. Rowlf appeared in the "Keep Fishin'" music video for rock band Weezer. Although he's only briefly seen, Rowlf had a more prominent role in the behind the scenes making-of special that accompanied it, Weezer and the Muppets Go Fishin'.

Additionally, Bill Barretta recorded the vocals as Rowlf singing "The Christmas Party Sing-Along" for the 2006 The Muppets: A Green and Red Christmas album.

As of 2014, Rowlf is on long-term display at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Georgia.[7]

Rowlf and Kermit appeared together at the 2011 Disney D23 Expo to honor Jim Henson's posthumous induction as a Disney Legend, singing a live duet of "Rainbow Connection", as both were Henson's first two Muppet characters.[8]

Rowlf appears in The Muppets, initially saddened he wasn't included in the montage depicting the principal Muppets being reunited (Rowlf was asleep, and was simply woken up by Kermit and easily convinced to join the cause), and helps rebuild the Muppet theater. He also performs "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in a barbershop quartet with Sam the Eagle, Beaker, and Link Hogthrob during the Muppet Telethon, as well as an unwilling (and captive) Jack Black.

Television and film appearances


A solo album titled Ol' Brown Ears is Back was released by BMG in 1993 and featured 14 songs recorded by Jim Henson as Rowlf.[4][9] Although released three years after Henson's death, the tracks were recorded in 1984.


  1. Shemin, Craig (2014). Disney's The Muppets Character Encyclopedia. New York: DK Publishing. p. 155. ISBN 9781465417480.
  2. ""Pig's In A Blackout" The Muppets | TV Review | The Muppetiest episode so far gets stalled by a celebrity cameo | TV Club | The A.V. Club".
  3. "2/–/1963 – 'Don Sahlin started to work regularly.' | Jim Henson's Red Book". 2014-02-03. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
  4. 1 2 "The Secret Genius Of Rowlf The Dog". 2012-09-23. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
  5. "Museum of the Moving Image - Visit - Calendar - A Dog's Life: A Rowlf Retrospective". 2013-11-29. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
  6. Dean, Jimmy (2004). Thirty Years of Sausage, Fifty Years of Ham: Jimmy Dean's Own Story. Berkley Books. ISBN 042521026X.
  7. "Special Exhibits: Jim Henson: A Man and His Frog". Center for Puppetry Arts in Fulton County Georgia. 2014. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  8. Disney D23 2011 Expo, Disney Legends Award Ceremony
  9. "Rowlf the Dog's Solo Album Pleases - Los Angeles Times". 1993-05-29. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
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