Jim Henson

henson1September 24, 1936 – May 16, 1990

I know. I know. How do you do a grave blog post about someone who doesn’t have a grave?  I don’t care. Jim Henson was/is my hero. Today would have been his 77th birthday. I’m gonna write about him.

James Maury Henson was a beloved entertainer, writer, producer and, of course…puppeteer. Henson first found his way onto television via 5-minute segments called Sam and Friends on a local Washington D.C. TV station. The puppets in Sam and Friends (including a lizard named Kermit that he created out of an old, green coat) were used very differently than any in the past. He experimented with movement techniques and used the camera frame to remove himself from the scene entirely – giving the puppets the central focus and allowing them to “live” all on their own. This was a departure from some of his childhood idols such as Edgar Bergen and became the style that would define his career – and change the art form forever.

Henson plied his trade and growing stable of characters (deemed by this point as “Muppets”) to commercials, mostly, throughout the 1960s. But, it was in 1969, when he was hired on to help with a children’s show called Sesame Street, that he was able to begin to share his gift with the world. He and his collaborators (Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Jerry Juhl, etc) created characters that are still as popular today as they were 40+ years ago.

Not wanting to be typecast as a “chlidren’s” entertainer, Henson and gang – via stints on a fledgling comedy show called Saturday Night Live – started taking their skits and Muppets to a more adult audience.  This led to primetime variety shows like The Muppet Show (starring Kermit the Frog,) holiday specials like Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, cartoons, and feature films like The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and, of course, The Muppet Movie and its sequels.

Jim Henson became ill in May of 1990. The illness turned rather rapidly into septic shock and his hesitancy to go to the hospital (out of a desire to not bother people, not necessarily due to his Christian Science upbringing, for what it’s worth) aided in his deterioration.  The hospital was unable to stop the infection and Jim passed away on May 16th1 at the age of 53. He left behind a universe of characters and stories that continue to delight audiences of all ages today. Nowhere was it more evident how truly great of an impact he had on us and those around him than at his memorial service in 1990. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it.


Cremated – Ashes scattered in the foothills outside of Taos, in New Mexico. There is a memorial bench on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park for fans to visit.


1 – Incidentally, the exact same day that Sammy Davis, Jr. died.


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