Jim Henson

Jim Henson

Jim Henson's love of puppeteering formed a career that ultimately inspired countless generations of children around the world. Born in Greenville, Mississippi, his family moved just outside of Washington, D.C. when he was an adolescent. While still in high school, he began working on a weekend childrens show, making puppets, at a local television station. During his college years, he created his first TV show, the five-minute puppet show called "Sam and Friends" for Washington's WRC. The success of the show got Henson noticed in the industry, and he began making appearances on network talk shows such as "The Steve Allen Show" (NBC, 1956-61). He began working extensively in commercials, using his ever developing talents to create puppets that were unlike any that had been seen before. His creation, the Muppets, appeared in ad campaigns throughout the '60s for products like coffee, bread, and soda. Henson moved his operations to New York in 1963, and partnered with fellow puppeteers Frank Oz and Jerry Juhl. The team began developing a stable of Muppet characters. The group got a break apart from commercials when their character Rowfl the Dog began appearing regularly on "The Jimmy Dean Show" (ABC, 1963-66). Not content strictly commercial success, he continued pushing his talents, earning an Academy Award nomination for his short film "Time Piece" (1966). Henson's imprint on the public consciousness became indelible when he partnered with the Children's Television Workshop for an educational show on public television. The resulting program, "Sesame Street" (PBS, 1969-), grew to become a global phenomenon, appearing in some form in more than 140 countries. Characters such as Grover, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird soon were as recognizable as any celebrity. Fighting against being pigeonholed, Henson kept exploring projects for The Muppets that were aimed at adults, including contributing to the first season of "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975-). While his character Kermit the Frog had appeared in commercials, talk shows, and on "Sesame Street," Henson built his next project around his alter-ego. "The Muppet Show" (ITV, 1976-81) continued the run of success and introduced the world to another stable of characters, including Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear. He moved the characters onto the big screen with the star-studded "The Muppet Movie" (1979). The film was a critical and financial success, and spawned a series of sequels. As ever, though, Henson refused to be put into a box. He continued creating innovative offerings for children, including the award-winning "Fraggles" and "Muppet Babies." He also directed films that involved creations that weren't from his more famous projects. He worked with Oz and George Lucas to create the Yoda character for "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980), and directed the critically acclaimed films "The Dark Crystal" (1982) and "Labyrinth" (1986). While continuing to work on a full slate of projects, Henson suddenly became ill. His condition worsened and he was admitted to a New York hospital, where he died shortly after from toxic shock syndrome on May 16, 1990.