Published on July 17, 2016
James Maury “Jim” Henson
(September 24, 1936 – May 16, 1990) was an American puppeteer, artist, cartoonist, inventor, screenwriter, songwriter, musician, actor, film director, and producer who achieved international fame as the creator of the Muppets. Born in Greenville, Mississippi, and raised in Leland, Mississippi, and Hyattsville, Maryland, Henson began developing puppets while attending high school. While he was a freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park, he created Sam and Friends, a five-minute sketch-comedy puppet show that appeared on television. After graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in home economics, he produced coffee advertisements and developed some experimental films. Feeling the need for more creative output, Henson founded Muppets Inc. in 1958 (which would later become the Jim Henson Company).
Henson became famous in the 1960s when he joined the children’s educational television program Sesame Street, and there helped develop characters for the series. He also appeared in the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. In 1976, after scrapping plans for a Broadway show, he produced The Muppet 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. He also had frequent roles in Muppets films such as The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan, and created advanced puppets for projects like Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth. During the later years of his life, he also founded the Jim Henson Foundation, and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. His involvement in two television programs—The Storyteller and The Jim Henson Hour—led to Emmy Awards wins.
Henson died suddenly in May 1990, aged 53, from streptococcal toxic shock syndrome – an unexpected event that was widely lamented in the film and television industries. In the weeks after his death, he was celebrated in a wave of tributes. He was posthumously inducted into Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991, and as a Disney Legend in 2011.
Kermit the Frog
is a Muppet character and Jim Henson’s most well-known creation, first introduced in 1955. He is the straight man protagonist of many Muppet projects, most notably on Sesame Street, and The Muppet Show, as well as in movies, specials, and public service announcements throughout the years. Henson originally performed Kermit until his death on May 16, 1990; Steve Whitmire has performed Kermit since that time. He was voiced by Frank Welker in Muppet Babies and occasionally in other animation projects.
Kermit performed the hit singles “Bein’ Green” in 1970 and “Rainbow Connection” in 1979 for The Muppet Movie, the first feature-length film featuring the Muppets. The latter song reached No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. Kermit’s iconic look and voice have been recognizable worldwide since, and in 2006, the character was credited as the author of Before You Leap: A Frog’s Eye View of Life’s Greatest Lessons, which is an “autobiography” told from the perspective of the character himself.