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 Jim Henson

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Jim Henson

  • Birth 24 Sep 1936 Greenville, Washington County, Mississippi, USA
  • Death 16 May 1990 Manhattan, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA
  • Burial Cremated, Ashes scattered, Specifically: Scattered at his ranch outside Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Memorial ID 2210

Puppeteer, Film Director, and Television Producer. He was the founder of the entertainment organization The Jim Henson Company, the Jim Henson Foundation, and Jim Henson's Creature Shop, a special/visual effects company. He is fondly remembered as the creator of The Muppets, which first appeared on the children's daytime public television show "Sesame Street." His many characters include such well-known figures as 'Kermit the Frog', 'Miss Piggy', 'Big Bird', the 'Cookie Monster', and 'Snuffleupagus'. Born James Maury Henson, the youngest of two boys, his father was an agronomist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He spent his early childhood in Leland, Mississippi, before moving with his family to Hyattsville, Maryland, near Washington DC in the late 1940s. In 1954, while attending Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, he began working for WTOP-TV, creating puppets for a Saturday morning children's show called "The Junior Morning Show." After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland as a studio arts major. A puppetry class offered in the applied arts department introduced him to the craft and textiles courses in the College of Home Economics, and he graduated in 1960 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in home economics. As a college freshman, he had been asked to create "Sam and Friends," a 5-minute puppet show for WRC-TV in Washington DC. The characters on Sam and Friends were forerunners of Muppets, and the show included a prototype of his most famous character, 'Kermit the Frog'. He remained at WRC-TV for seven years from 1954 to 1961, where he met Jane Nebel, who he married in 1959. During this time, he became involved in commercials and other television shows, including "The Ed Sullivan Show." His 1960's talk show appearances culminated when he devised 'Rowlf', a piano-playing anthropomorphic dog, who became the first Muppet to make regular appearances on a network show, CBS television's "The Jimmy Dean Show." From 1963 to 1966, he began exploring film-making and produced a series of experimental films. His nine-minute experimental film, "Time Piece," was nominated for an Academy Award for Live Action Short Film in 1966. In 1969 he produced "The Cube," another experimental movie. In 1969 the Children's Television Workshop asked him to work on "Sesame Street," a visionary children's program for public television. Part of the show was set aside for a series of funny, colorful puppet characters living on the titular street. Initially, his Muppets appeared separately from the realistic segments on "Sesame Street," but after a poor test-screening in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the show was revamped to integrate the two, placing much greater emphasis on his work. Concurrently with the first years of "Sesame Street," he directed "Tales from Muppetland," a short series of TV movie specials, in the form of comedic recitings of classic fairy tales, aimed at a young audience and hosted by 'Kermit the Frog'. The series included "Hey, Cinderella!," "The Frog Prince," and "The Muppet Musicians of Bremen." In 1975 he began targeting adult audiences with his Muppet characters with a series of sketches on the first season of the groundbreaking comedy series "Saturday Night Live." This led to the creation of "The Muppet Show," which began taping in England after American networks initially rejected the idea of a weekly television series. It featured 'Kermit' as the host, along with a variety of other memorable characters, notably 'Miss Piggy', 'Gonzo the Great', and 'Fozzie Bear'. Three years after the start of "The Muppet Show," the Muppets appeared in their first theatrical feature film "The Muppet Movie" (1979), becoming both a critical and financial success. A song from the movie, "The Rainbow Connection", sung by him as 'Kermit', reached Number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for an Academy Award. In 1979 he was asked by the producers of the Star Wars sequel "The Empire Strikes Back" to aid make-up artist Stuart Freeborn in the creation and articulation of enigmatic Jedi Master 'Yoda'. He suggested to Star Wars creator George Lucas that he use his associate, Frank Oz, as the puppeteer and voice of 'Yoda', which he did in "The Empire Strikes Back" and each of the four subsequent Star Wars films. The naturalistic, lifelike 'Yoda' became one of the most popular characters of the Star Wars franchise. In 1981 he directed a sequel, "The Great Muppet Caper," and he decided to end the still-popular "Muppet Show" to concentrate on making films. From time to time, the Muppet characters continued to appear in made-for-TV-movies and television specials. In 1982 he founded the Jim Henson Foundation to promote and develop the art of puppetry in the US. Around that time, he began creating darker and more realistic fantasy films that did not feature the Muppets, starting with "The Dark Crystal" (1982), which he co-directed and co-wrote with Frank Oz, and "Labyrinth" (1986), which he directed, and it failed commercially but later it became a cult classic. In 1984 his Muppets appeared in the musical comedy "The Muppets Take Manhattan." Although he was still engaged in creating children's television, such as the successful eighties shows "Fraggle Rock" and the animated "Muppet Babies," he continued to explore darker, mature themes with the folk tale and mythology-oriented show "The Storyteller" (1988), that won an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Program. The following year, he returned to television with NBC's "The Jim Henson Hour," which mixed lighthearted Muppet fare with riskier material. The show was critically well received and won him another Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Variety or Music Program, but the show was canceled after 13 episodes due to low ratings. In late 1989, he entered into negotiations to sell his company to The Walt Disney Company for almost $150 million, hoping that, with Disney handling business matters, it would free him to do other creative endeavors. By 1990 he had completed production on a television special, "The Muppets at Walt Disney World," and a Disney World (later Disney California Adventure Park as well) attraction, "Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3D," and was developing film ideas and a television series titled "Muppet High." During the production of his later projects, he began to experience flu like symptoms. On May 4, 1990, Henson made an appearance on "The Arsenio Hall Show," one of his last television appearances. At the time, he mentioned to his publicist that he was tired and had a sore throat, but felt that it would go away. Still feeling tired and ill while visiting family in North Carolina the following week, he consulted a physician who found no evidence of pneumonia or any other serious illness. He then traveled to New York City, New York on May 14th and visited with his estranged wife Jane. During the visit, he began to have trouble breathing and started coughing up blood early the following morning. He finally agreed to go to a hospital and by the time he was admitted, he could not breathe on his own anymore and he had abscesses in his lungs. He was placed on a mechanical ventilator to help him breathe, but his condition deteriorated rapidly despite aggressive treatment with multiple antibiotics and the following day, he died at the age of 53. His cause of death was due to organ failure resulting from streptococcal toxic shock syndrome. He is honored both as himself and as 'Kermit the Frog' on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one of only four people to have ever received an honor as a cartoon/puppet character and as a person.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 2210
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Jim Henson (24 Sep 1936–16 May 1990), Find A Grave Memorial no. 2210, ; Maintained by Find A Grave Cremated, Ashes scattered, who reports a Scattered at his ranch outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.