Jeter was born on Aug. 26, 1952, in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. He began medical studies at Memphis State University, but soon discovered a love for the theater. After graduation, he pursued his career in earnest and moved to New York and worked as a law firm secretary until he found some stage work and his film debut in Milos Forman's adaptation of the musical Hair (1979).
Jeter spend the next decade landing mostly stage work and making occasional guest forays in popular television shows: Lou Grant, Night Court, and Designing Women, but his unique physical presence (a slight, 5'4" frame, premature balding, owlish features) made it difficult for him to land substantial parts. That all changed when Tommy Tune cast him in the Broadway hit Grand Hotel (1990) in the role of Otto Kringelin, a dying clerk enjoying a last fling in Berlin. Jeter's energetic performance earned him a Tony award and gave him a much higher profile to stake a claim in movies. The following year he made his strongest impression on film to date when he was cast in Terry Gilliam's
He scored his biggest coup when he was cast the same year in the hit sitcom Evening Shade (1991-1994) as Herman Stiles, the wimpy assistant to Reynolds, who played a pro football player turned coach. He won an Emmy award in 1992 for that role and scored two more nominations by the end of the series run. Jeter would also get some good supporting parts in many films throughout the decade: Sister Act 2 (1993), a fun comic role as Whoopi Goldberg's sidekick Father Ignatius; Mouse Hunt (1997); The Green Mile (1999), his best film role as Eduard Delacroix, a condemned murderer who befriends a cellblock mouse; Jurassic Park III (2001); and Welcome to Collinwood (2002).
At the time of his death, Jeter was appearing on the classic PBS children's series Sesame Street as the lovable but bumbling Mr. Noodle; and had been filming Robert Zemekis' Christmas movie The Polar Express starring Tom Hanks. Production was halted on Monday in observance of Jeter's death. He is survived by his life partner, Sean Blue, his parents, Dr. William and Virginia Jeter; a brother, William; and four sisters, Virginia Anne Barham, Emily Jeter, Amanda Parsons and Laurie Wicker.
by Michael T. Toole