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Jim Henson
1936 - 1990

Born on September 24th 1936 James Maury Henson was an American puppeteer, animator, cartoonist, actor, inventor, filmmaker, and screenwriter who achieved worldwide notice as the creator of The Muppets (1955–present) and Fraggle Rock (1983–1987); and as the director of The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986). He was born in Greenville, Mississippi and raised in Leland, Mississippi and University Park, Maryland. The younger of two children. Henson’s older brother Paul Ransom Henson Jr. died in a car crash in 1956. Henson attended a variety of grade schools in his youth, including Hyattsville High School. Jim found work with WTOP-TV, but unfortunately for him it was cut short. Not put off Jim continued performing with puppets helped by his classmate Jane.

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They were offered a nightly segment on TV for which they created Sam & Friends. These two characters were to become the forerunners of the Muppets. This show also included a prototype of Kermit the Frog. Jim stayed with WRC until 1961. Henson began experimenting with techniques that changed the way in which puppetry was used on television, foregoing the convention of pointing the camera at a stationary Puppet Theatre and instead using the image created by the TV camera and lens to dynamically engage with his characters. He believed that television puppets needed to have "life and sensitivity". Rather than carving wooden puppets Henson built characters from softer, flexible materials like foam rubber.

His first iteration of Kermit was made from a halved table tennis ball and fabric from an old coat belonging to his mother Denim from a pair of jeans forming the sleeve for the puppeteer's arm. In 1963, Henson and his wife moved to New York City where the newly formed Muppets Inc. which later became the Jim Henson Company, resided for some time. Jane quit performing to raise their children, and Henson hired writer Jerry Juhl in 1961 and puppet performer Frank Oz in 1963 to replace her. Henson credited them both with developing much of the humour and character of his Muppets. He and Oz developed a close friendship and a performing partnership that lasted until Henson's death.

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Their teamwork is particularly evident in their portrayals of Bert and Ernie, Kermit and Miss Piggy, and Kermit and Fozzie Bear. Henson joined the children's educational television program Sesame Street where he helped to develop characters for the series. He and his creative team also appeared on the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. He produced The Muppet Show during this period, premiering the series in 1976. He gained attention for his creations, particularly Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, and Ernie; and he was involved with Sesame Street for over 20 years. The Muppets appeared in their first theatrical feature film The Muppet Movie in 1979. It was both a critical and financial success. It made $65.2 million domestically and was the 61st highest-grossing film at the time.

Then Henson directed The Great Muppet Caper (1981) and a decision followed to end the Muppet Show to concentrate on making films, though the Muppet characters continued to appear in TV movies and specials. Henson worked with Oz again on The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), this time with Oz as sole director. The film grossed $25.5 million domestically of a budget of only around $8 million, and ranked as one of the top 40 films of 1984. Labyrinth(1986) was a fantasy that Henson directed by himself, but—despite some positive reviews; The New York Times called it "a fabulous film"—it was a commercial disappointment. This demoralized Henson; his son Brian Henson described it as "the closest I've seen him to turning in on himself and getting quite depressed." 

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The film later became a cult classic. Henson continued creating children's television, such as Fraggle Rock and the animated Muppet Babies. During the later years of his life, he 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. Henson appeared with Kermit on The Arsenio Hall Show in Los Angeles on May 4, 1990. This would be his final television appearance. Shortly afterwards, he privately disclosed to his publicist that he was tired and had a sore throat, but that he believed it would soon go away. On May 12, Henson travelled to Ahoskie, North Carolina with his daughter Cheryl to visit his father and stepmother.

They returned to their home in New York City the following day, and Henson cancelled a Muppet recording session that had been scheduled for May 14, 1990, due to his ill health. Henson died at the age of 53 from toxic shock syndrome, an unexpected event that was widely lamented in the media and entertainment industry. In the weeks following his death, he was celebrated with a wave of tributes and was posthumously inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991 and was selected to be one of the Disney Legends in 2011. The Jim Henson Company and the Jim Henson Foundation continued after his death, producing new series and specials. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop also continues to create characters and special effects for both Henson-related and outside projects. 

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Several current members of the British Puppet Guild have had the pleasure of knowing Jim Henson. Guild President Ronnie Le Drew, Mike Quinn, Ian Thom and Dave Showler to name just a few. Jim was held in high esteem with so many puppeteers and puppet builders all over the world. All speak highly of him and how his work had influenced their journey through life.

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