Jane Henson, Former Wife of Jim Henson, Dead at 78

JANE NEBEL HENSON, 1934-2013 (Image: Jim Henson Company)

Kermit is silenced again.

Jane Henson, the former wife and collaborator of Muppets creator Jim Henson, died Tuesday after a battle with cancer. She was 78.

According to The Guardian, Jane Henson was involved in the creation of a precursor to The Muppets. She got her start when she and Jim worked on the TV show Sam and Friends, which included characters including, according to Wikipedia, a “lizard-like creature called Kermit who later evolved into Kermit the Frog.”

Jim Henson died in 1990.

In a statement on its website, The Jim Henson Company said:

Jane Nebel Henson met Jim Henson in a puppetry class at the University of Maryland and soon after became an integral creative and business partner in what would become the world famous Muppets.

As a fine arts education major studying at the University of Maryland in 1954, Jane Nebel shared with Jim Henson a unique approach to puppetry that is joyful and sophisticated. While still an undergraduate, Jim Henson was offered a spot on the local NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., WRC-TV, and asked Jane Nebel to join him as a co performer and creator.

The television show, Sam and Friends, which aired before The Huntley-Brinkley Report and The Tonight Show Starring Steve Allen, in Washington D.C., began to attract an enthusiastic audience. It wasn’t long before the Muppets were making special guest appearances on the top variety shows of the time. Their first national television guest appearance was on Steve Allen’s Tonight Show, the same show that Sam and Friends had preceded. Jane Nebel graduated in 1955, but continued working with Jim Henson at WRC-TV as a performer, puppet designer/ builder, and business partner. In May 1959, Jane Nebel married Jim Henson at her parents’ home in Salisbury, MD.” They had five children.

Jane Henson
Jane Henson and husband Jim Henson with the cast of Sam and Friends in 1960 (Photograph: Del Ankers./AP)

Jane Henson was involved in the Jim Henson Company, and, the statement said, “actively participated in the company as it became an important global family entertainment organization, collaborating with Jim Henson on a number of projects that included the traveling museum exhibit The Art of The Muppets, and The Muppet Show on Tour and Sesame Street Live arena stage shows. Known for her keen eye for spotting puppeteer talent, Jane also became the point of entry to the company for many top puppeteers.”

Jim and Jane Henson separated in 1986, the statement said, but “Jim and Jane Henson continued to share their love of, and vision for, the Muppets.”

A tribute page celebrating Jane and featuring images from her life can be found at www.henson.com/jane.html. A memorial mass is planned for next week. Donations may be sent in memory of Jane Henson to the following:

Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, memoirist, critic, poet, teacher and 17th level geek. He wrote the award-winning travel memoir investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Gilsdorf writes regularly for the New York Times, Boston Globe, Salon.com, BoingBoing.net, PsychologyToday.com, Washington Post and wired.com. He has published hundreds of articles, essays, op-eds and reviews on the arts, pop culture, gaming, geek culture and travel in dozens of other magazines, newspapers, websites and guidebooks worldwide. He has also published dozens of poems in literary magazines and anthologies. He is a core contributor to the blogs "GeekDad, "Geek Pride" on PsychologyToday.com, and Boston NPR affiliate WBUR's Cognoscenti blog. He is also a book and film critic for the Boston Globe, and is the film columnist for Art New England. He and author Noble Smith geek out and wax nostalgic about D&D and other nerdy pop culture relics at Dungeons & Dorkwards. He is a lover of ELO and a hater of littering. Sometimes he wears a tunic and chainmail, or these grampy pants. More info fantasyfreaksbook.com or follow on Facebook fantasyfreaksbook