Jim Henson

September 24, 1936

Before he died, he wrote letters to his family and his friends. In one of the letters, he said, “Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.”

He was born on September 24, 1936.

He said, “As a kid, I felt isolated. Isolation makes you sensitive. As a kid, I felt I was the only person who was like that. But there’s a good side to isolation. It makes you sensitive, and sensitivity is part of the creative process.”

He was also self-conscious of his looks, growing a beard when he was older to cover up acne scars from his teenage years.

One of his most beloved memories was the time spent with his maternal grandmother, who he loved dearly. His grandmother was an artist, who convinced her grandson to pursue his dreams and share his imagination with the world. She taught him how to draw, paint, and even sew.

After graduating from college with a degree in home economics, he made use of those sewing skills by taking his mother’s old turquoise coat and attaching ping-pong balls to it, giving it eyes. He then decided to give his creation a collar. But something was still missing, and, his creation would evolve one more time – changing the color from turquoise to green. Kermit the Frog was born.

In 1969, James Maury Henson and Kermit would join the children’s educational television program “Sesame Street”. The two, along with Ernie and Bert, Oscar the Grouch, Grover, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird, would become favorites on Sesame Street.

One of Kermit’s most memorable performances on Sesame Street was when he sang “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” At first, Kermit laments his color, but then realizes the color also carries with it positive associations, finally accepting and embracing his greenness.

According to The Economist, “Mr Henson strongly supported civil rights.”

When it was time to move on, Henson and his star, Kermit, proposed a new show featuring his creations. The show initially was turned down by all three U.S. TV networks. The Muppet Show would go on to become one of the most successful TV shows ever, airing in 106 countries to over 235 million viewers.

One of Jim Henson’s other productions was “Fraggle Rock”. Henson said he created Fraggle Rock in the hopes of ending war by teaching kids about peaceful conflict resolution. The creatures of Fraggle Rock also dealt with serious issues such as prejudice, spirituality, personal identity, and the environment. Henson initially intended to do Fraggle Rock episodes in various countries, replacing Doc and his dog with culturally-relevant native counterparts.

Portrait of American film & televison director and puppeteer Jim Henson (1936 – 1990) as he holds muppet Kermit the Frog, late 1970s or early 1980s. (Photo by Bernard Gotfryd/Getty Images) – Flikcr

Cheryl Henson, President of the Jim Henson Foundation and a member of the Board of Directors for The Jim Henson Company, as well as Jim’s daughter, said, “I feel like the way that the Fraggles are aware of their environment and that they’re both aware of and not aware of [the] importance of the symbiotic relationships with the other species and with the world around them, there are so many messages in Fraggle Rock that are really pertinent for today.”

Even the new “Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” continues many of the themes promoted by Henson.

According to USA Today, “The new series is apt for a time when the word “resistance” is bandied about in political circles. Yes, the original was a story of good (Gelflings, Mystics) versus evil (Skeksis). But it was also a parable that warned against totalitarianism and a voracious pursuit of power. The dictatorial Skeksis literally consume the planet and its creatures in their hunger for everlasting life . . . ‘Age of Resistance’ goes further, skewering the idea of a benevolent oppressor and adding parallels to slavery, racism and classism. The fantasy focuses on the need to save the planet on which its heroes stand from being drained by the Skeksis’ greed, a sort of intrinsic environmentalism.”

Writer David Zahl wrote, “Henson may have preached self-belief, but all his stories find people desperately in need of (and finding!) help from others. Despite the sometimes insufferable can’t-we-all-just-get-along aspect of Sesame Street (and let’s face it, Fraggle Rock) much of Henson’s work dealt more seriously with human suffering, both self-inflicted and otherwise. The Dark Crystal (1982) is nothing if not a parable of Fall and Redemption, and Labyrinth (1986) has a distinctly Pilgrim’s Progress-like, um, progression. Henson may have believed with all his heart in a “positive view of life,” but his work reflects a larger truth.”

Henson said, “When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there.”

One of Henson’s most memorable performances was in “The Muppet Movie” when Henson crouched inside a custom-made diving bell submerged under water to allow Kermit to sit on a log in a swamp.

Kermit would sing a song, written by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher, which sounded like it was something Jim Henson would say:

“Who said that every wish
Would be heard and answered
When wished on the morning star
Somebody thought of that
And someone believed it
And look what it’s done so far
What’s so amazing
That keeps us star gazing
What so we think we might see
Someday we’ll find it
That Rainbow Connection
The lovers the dreamers and me.”

Writer Elizabeth Hyde Stevens said, “What do we want our children to get from Henson’s work? The same thing we learned from it. The philosophy of a gentle dreamer. The message that was encapsulated in ‘The Rainbow Connection’ – the one about the ‘The lovers, the dreamers, and me.’ It’s the idea that life is about making a difference, a positive change.”

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