Born the son of a physician in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, Jeter first opted to follow a career in medicine, though a stint at Memphis State University found the creative young student leaning ever closer to a career as an actor. After graduation, he moved to New York and worked at a law firm while trying to land his first acting job.
Taking on minor film roles beginning with 1979's Hairspray, the burgeoning young actor would subsequently appear in such films as Milos Foreman's Ragtime (1981) and Woody Allen's Zelig (1983), though early struggles with alcohol and substance abuse threatened to sideline his screen career in the mid-'80s.
Abandoning the screen for a career as a legal secretary the same year that Zelig was released, fate guided Jeter back into his true calling when a producer, recalling his role in television's Designing Women, asked that he take a supporting role on the Burt Reynolds' sitcom Evening Shade. Accepting the role as assistant football coach Herman Stiles, Jeter's enthusiasm for acting was re-ignited as he was honored with an Emmy for the role in 1992.
A busy stage actor as well, Jeter won a Tony in 1990 for his performance in Grand Hotel. From 1990 on, Jeter maintained his film career with a series of memorably quirky roles. Perhaps his most unique and affecting role came with the release of director Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King. As a homeless transvestite cabaret singer who croons for Amanda Plummer's character after making a flamboyant entrance into her quiet office, Jeter's carefree ditty was a highlight of the film.
With his trademark red moustache, personable smile, and childlike demeanor, longtime character actor Michael Jeter brought smiles to children nationwide with his role on Sesame Street as Mr. Noodle's Brother.
Aside from his memorable role on that children's television mainstay, Jeter could also be seen in a number of memorable film roles in such efforts as Miller's Crossing (1990) and The Fisher King (1991). Chances are, if you don't recognize his name you would certainly recognize his face.
The 1990s proved a busy decade for Jeter, and roles in such popular films as Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993), Air Bud (1997), and The Green Mile (1999) assured that his career would flourish well into the new millennium.
Announcing that he had been infected with HIV in 1997, audiences could never have known how quickly the deadly virus would take its toll on the energetic and optimistic actor.
Though Jeter would usher in the new millennium with roles in such prominent box-office releases as The Gift (2000) and Jurassic Park III (2001), it was his role on Sesame Street that endeared him to children and made good use of his genuinely playful nature.
Before his untimely death, Jeter would complete roles in Kevin Costner's Open Range (2003) and Robert Zemeckis' family fantasy The Polar Express (2004).
Jeter, who revealed in 1997 that he had contracted HIV and was a longtime supporter of AIDS charities, was found dead in his Hollywood Hills home, Los Angeles, CA. Jeter, who was HIV-positive but had been in good health, apparently died of natural causes. He is survived by his life partner, Sean Blue, his parents and five siblings.