Rowlf the Dog was the first Muppet to reach national stardom as a cast member of The Jimmy Dean Show from 1963 to 1966. He later went on to serve as the resident piano player on The Muppet Show, where he also played the silly surgeon Dr. Bob in the recurring sketch "Veterinarian's Hospital".
Rowlf was prominently featured in The Muppet Movie as a piano player at The Terrace Restaurant, where he first meets Kermit. When Kermit is down, Rowlf shares his motto in life, a motto even he can't follow - "stay away from women." The two sing "I Hope That Somethin' Better Comes Along". An original draft of the script describes the song as "a sad/funny little duet based on the old 'can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em' theme, designed to allow for some good harmony howling from Rowlf."
The song featured a rare pairing of characters, as Jim Henson virtually performed a duet with himself. In order to achieve the effect, the vocals of the two characters were recorded separately by Henson and then combined.
Rowlf soon joined Kermit and the rest of the gang on their way to Hollywood. Before joining the Muppets, Rowlf's life was simple - he lived alone, would "go to work, come home, read a book, have a couple of beers, take [himself] for a walk and go to bed." While in the desert, Rowlf played harmonica as Gonzo sang "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday" (while Fozzie played ukulele). Rowlf served as the film's cameraman in the finale, as the Muppets prepare to shoot their movie.
Rowlf appeared as one of the main characters in The Muppets, again performed by Barretta. He rejoins the Muppets to help put on the telethon to save the Muppet Studios. At one point, he laments being excluded from the montage gathering the Muppets; a clip is then shown of Kermit, Walter, Gary and Mary asking Rowlf, who is laying in a hammock if he wants to join the reunion, to which he replies "Okay."
A sinister doppelgänger of Rowlf, named Roowlf, appears in the film as a member of The Moopets.
Rowlf starred in the Muppets' promotional tie-in commercial for Alamo Rent a Car, and Yamaha Entertainment's Muppets sweepstake. Rowlf was also featured in a series of promotional posters spoofing The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn as WereRowlf. He also appeared in the OK Go music video for "The Muppet Show Theme Song."
According to an interview with Yamaha All Access, Rowlf considers Jason Segel "a fine piano player. During the movie, we jammed together between takes. Boogie-woogie! Jason plays a mean boogie, and my woogie is still wagging, even if I say so myself.
Rowlf appeared in the opening of Jim Henson's Musical World, both in video from his performance with Jimmy Dean at Carnegie Hall in 1965, and in the actual hall. He lamented the fact that it took Carnegie Hall 47 years to invite him back. Rowlf also sang "I Never Harmed an Onion" at the Just for Laughs show in July 2012.
After the death of Jim Henson, Rowlf continued to appear in Muppet productions, silently (and usually briefly). A rumor arose that the character would be permanently silent as a sign of respect to Jim. As Brian Henson commented on in the audio commentary for The Muppet Christmas Carol, Rowlf continued to appear as a tribute to the character and Henson's legacy. Still, he wasn't immediately recast and kept in the forefront like Kermit, because at the time, the Muppeteers didn't feel there was a suitable and appropriate performer for the task.
Bill Barretta starting taking on the character in 1996 and gradually transitioned into the role. Although Rowlf only appeared in one episode of Muppets Tonight, he uttered his first words since Jim's passing in episode 102; while playing piano during the closing number, Rowlf exclaims "Oh yeah!" He also appeared in Muppets from Space as a resident of the Muppet Boarding House and, at one point, muttered an audible "Oogh!".
Rowlf appeared in the "Keep Fishin" music video for rock band Weezer. Although he's only briefly seen (one can hear him muttering "Good job, River" and "Yeah"), Rowlf had a more prominent role in the behind the scenes making-of special that accompanied it, Weezer and the Muppets Go Fishin'.
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