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Jim Henson was an American puppeteer best known for creating TV characters, including the Muppets, and for his work on the popular children's show Sesame Street.
Jim Henson - Muppet Master (1:11)
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Watch a short video about Jim Henson and learn how this puppeteer managed to entertain and educate children for decades.
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Surprisingly, Henson had a challenging time getting the show financed in the United States, but eventually found the support needed with London-based TV producer Lord Lew Grade. In 1975, at Grade's ATV Studios, Henson and his crew created Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Animal, Gonzo, Scooter and the rest of The Muppet Show ensemble. The hit series, with Kermit as the host, premiered in 1976. Soon after, superstar guest hosts came aboard, including Liza Minnelli,
Elton John, Vincent Price and Steve Martin. Henson’s show reached a staggering 235 millions viewers in more than 100 countries, and earned three Emmy Awards.
The Muppet Show also led to feature films for Henson, including The Muppet Movie in 1979, and an animated TV spin-off, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, that garnered four consecutive Emmys (outstanding animated program). But Henson didn’t limit his TV puppetry to his original Muppets. In the 1980s, he developed the TV series Fraggle Rock, The Jim Henson Hour and Jim Henson's The Storyteller. Other major motion pictures followed too, including 1982’s The Dark Crystal, a groundbreaking film mixing puppetry and animatronics, and 1986’s Labyrinth, which was produced by George Lucas and starred David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly.
Henson’s last project was Muppet*Vision 3D, a multimedia attraction installed at Disney theme parks in California and Florida. The endeavor wasn't expected to be the famous puppeteer's swan song, but on May 16, 1990, following a brief and unexpected bout of streptococcus pneumonia, Henson died at the age of 53. His moving yet celebratory funeral included a musical puppet performance. Big Bird himself walked in to pay his respect and sing, "It’s Not Easy Being Green." The supersized yellow puppet also expressed thanks to Kermit the Frog—often attributed as Henson’s Muppet alter ego.
Jim Henson's legacy as a director, producer, writer, puppeteer and innovator has continued for decades to come, due in no small part to his wife of more than 30 years, the late Jane (Nebel) Henson. (Henson and Jane met in college and married in 1959; they separated in 1986, but never divorced.) Jane Henson established the Jim Henson Legacy, dedicated to preserving and perpetuating her late husband's contributions to the world, in 1992. Jane also helped run the Jim Henson Foundation, founded in 1982 by Jim and the couple's daughter, Cheryl. The Jim Henson Foundation is committed to supporting American puppet theater. Jane Henson died on April 2, 2013, at the age of 78. Henson’s other daughter, Lisa, is currently CEO of the Jim Henson Company; his son, Brian, also a puppeteer, serves as a chair for the company.
The Henson family isn’t alone in keeping their father’s dream alive: The Walt Disney Company has introduced a whole new generation of kids and parents to Henson's puppet pals, releasing the blockbuster movie The Muppets in 2011.
As young Robin the Frog, Kermit’s nephew, so eloquently said in a Muppets tribute to Henson shortly after his passing, "This Jim Henson may be gone, but maybe he’s still here too, inside us, believing in us."
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