Thursday, August 22, 2013

Remembering Jim Henson September 24, 1936 - May 16, 1990

Jim Henson's name is probably not quite as visible as his cast of characters.  He is best known for his creation of "The Muppets"

As a child, Henson was always fascinated by television.   He was born in Greenville, Mississippi and raised as a Christian Scientist. He spent his early childhood in Leland, Mississippi until his family moved to Hyattsville, Maryland in the late 1940's.  He remembered the day his family's first television arrived and claimed it was "the biggest event of his adolescence."  He enjoyed watching Edgar Bergen, a radio ventriloquist and was fascinated with his talent.

In 1954, Henson learned of a job opening at a local radio station.  The job was to perform with puppets on a children's show.  He had always wanted on television so he and a friend made a couple of puppets and that was the start of Henson's illustrious career.  The show didn't last long but soon took his talents to another station and called it "Sam and Friends."

He continued to work with the puppets to create and make them as real as possible.  His first character was "Kermit the Frog" and remained with Jim throughout his life.  He soon created other characters and throughout the early 60's, Henson made appearances on variety and talk shows around the country.    It wasn't until his appearance on Sesame Street in 1969 that Henson's dream came to reality.  Sesame Street was made for preschoolers and his "Muppets" had a huge influence on them.  In addition to Kermit, his Muppet family included "Big Bird" "Oscar the Grouch" "Cookie Monster" "Ernie" and "Bert." and others. He created them with their own personalities and in 1976, "The Muppet Show" was born.  The show ran until 1981and Jim took his cast of characters to the big screen having produced three box office hit movies.

In addition to his television and movie career, he also produced several commercials that included the promotion of Wilkins Coffee.  He wanted to appeal to adults as well as his kids audience.  Also, later in his career he decided he would like to offer Disney the business side of his creation and Henson would continue to focus on the creative side.  He completed the production of the television special "The Muppets at Walt Disney World" as well as a Disney attraction at Disney World and began developing ideas for a television series "Muppet High."

His celebration folder
During the production of his later projects, Henson became ill.  He experienced flu-like symptoms.  In May of 1990 while appearing on "The Arsenio Hall Show" (one of his last television appearances), he told his publicist that he was extremely tired.  He was admitted to a hospital and by that time, Henson couldn't breathe and his condition rapidly worsened until he died the morning of May 16, 1990.  Henson was 53.  They determined the cause of death was organ failure resulting from Streptococcus pyogenes (a severe bacterial infection).

His memorial program
A public memorial service was held in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City on May 21, 1990 (programs pictured).  Henson had made it clear that he wanted no one wearing black.  Among those participating in the memorial were of course "The Muppets" as well as the song "Turn the World Around" sung by Harry Belefonte.  That song was used on The Muppet Show.  "Big Bird" also performed Kermit's signature song "Bein Green."  (not a dry eye in the house). At the conclusion of the service that lasted over two hours, the Muppets performed a medley of Henson's favorite songs.  The funeral was described by "Life" as an epic and almost unbearably moving event.

"Jim Henson is gone but his Muppet family live on."

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