James Maury Henson (September 24, 1936 – May 16, 1990) was an American puppeteer, artist, cartoonist, inventor, screenwriter, and filmmaker who achieved international fame as the creator of the Muppets. Born in Greenville, Mississippi, he was raised in Leland, Mississippi, and Hyattsville, Maryland.
Henson began developing puppets while attending high school. He created Sam and Friends while he was a freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park, a five-minute sketch-comedy puppet show that appeared on television. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in home economics, after which he produced coffee advertisements and developed some experimental films. He founded Muppets, Inc., in 1958, which became the Jim Henson Company.
Henson became famous in 1969 when he joined the children's educational television program Sesame Street where he helped to develop characters for the series. He also appeared on the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. He produced The Muppet Show in 1976, after scrapping plans for a Broadway show. He won fame for his creations, particularly Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, and Ernie, and he was involved with Sesame Street for over 20 years. During the later years of his life, he also founded the Jim Henson Foundation and Jim Henson's Creature Shop. He won the Emmy Award twice for his involvement in The Storyteller and The Jim Henson Hour.
Illness and death Edit
On May 4, 1990, Henson appeared with Kermit on The Arsenio Hall Show, for what turned out to be his last television appearance. At the time, he mentioned to his publicist that he was tired and had a sore throat, but felt that it would go away.
On Saturday, May 12, Henson traveled to Ahoskie, North Carolina, with his daughter Cheryl to visit his father and stepmother. While there, Henson consulted a doctor for what appeared to be flu-like symptoms. They returned to New York the following day, and an increasingly-ill Henson cancelled a Muppet recording session that had been scheduled for May 14. His estranged wife Jane came to visit that night. In the early hours on Tuesday, May 15, Henson suffered a medical emergency; he was having trouble breathing and began coughing up blood. He suggested to his wife that he might be dying, but he did not want to take time from his schedule to visit a hospital. Two hours later, he finally agreed to be taken by taxi to New York Hospital in Manhattan, arriving there at 4:58 a.m. Shortly after arrival, he stopped breathing, and an X-ray revealed that he had abscesses in his lungs. He was placed on a ventilator, but his condition deteriorated rapidly over the next several hours, despite increasingly aggressive treatment with multiple antibiotics.
After twenty hours in intensive care at the New York Hospital, Henson died at 1:21 a.m. on Wednesday, May 16, 1990. He was 53 years old. News of his sudden and unexpected death spread quickly and fans from around the world responded with tributes and condolences. Many of Henson's co-stars and directors from Sesame Street, the Muppets, and other works also shared their thoughts on his death. Henson died on the same day as fellow entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.. Doctor David Gelmont first announced that Henson had died from Streptococcus pneumoniae, an infection that causes bacterial pneumonia. However, he confirmed on May 29 that Henson's cause of death was organ dysfunction resulting from streptococcal toxic shock syndrome caused by Streptococcus pyogenes.
On May 21, Henson's public memorial service was conducted in Manhattan at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Another was conducted on December 2 at St Paul's Cathedral in London. In accordance with Henson's wishes, no one in attendance wore black, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band finished the service by performing "When the Saints Go Marching In". Harry Belafonte sang "Turn the World Around," a song that he had debuted on The Muppet Show, as each member of the congregation waved a brightly colored foam butterfly attached to a puppet performer's rod. Later, Caroll Spinney walked onto the stage dressed as Big Bird and sang Kermit the Frog's signature song "Bein' Green". Dave Goelz, Frank Oz, Kevin Clash, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, and Richard Hunt sang a medley of Jim Henson's favorite songs in their characters' voices, ending with a performance of "Just One Person". The funeral was described by Life as "an epic and almost unbearably moving event."