24 Years Later, Jim Henson's Death Still Hurts

Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog
Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog

It was more than half my life ago when Jim Henson died, but I still tear up a bit when I think of that day. It was May 16, 1990 when Henson suddenly died from organ failure resulting from an untreated infection (that was much more severe than he had thought). It felt to me like I’d lost a close friend, even though I’d never met him.

He was only 53 years old, and was about to make a deal with the Walt Disney Co. that would have enabled him to focus on the creative side of his work and leave the business side to others. We can only guess at the products of Henson’s weird, wonderful, and seemingly boundless creativity that the world was deprived of by his untimely passing. It’s a void that can’t be measured and can’t be filled.

Four years ago today, five fellow GeekDad writers and I wrote about our memories of Jim Henson. I encourage you to read that piece, and watch the videos at its end, and please share your own memories of Jim Henson in the comments.

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5 thoughts on “24 Years Later, Jim Henson's Death Still Hurts

  1. In May of 1994, I was 25-1/2 years old and had been a devoted fan of the Muppets since the mid-1960s, when they would occasionally pop up on the Ed Sullivan Show. By the time I was in high school, the Muppet Show was on the air, and other Muppet characters were appearing in bizarre segments on the first season of Saturday Night Live. I occasionally watched Sesame Street just to see the Muppets, and always watched the Tonight Show whenever Johnny Carson would have Henson and Kermit on as guests. But my favorite from the moment he appeared was Gonzo.

    As a weird and awkward kid who looked and acted about four years younger than I was, I found a kindred spirit in the Great Gonzo; to this day, I refer to him as my spirit guide. Gonzo in many ways reflects something that Henson had always included in the philosophy of the Muppets, something found in Kermit and Fozzie: the notion of being true to oneself and embracing one’s unique qualities, regardless of what others thought of them. To me, Gonzo says “if you’re weird, be a weirdo; lean into it and be the best weirdo you can be.” Whether tap-dancing in a vat of oatmeal or skywriting the Hallelujah Chorus, Gonzo defied convention boldly and loudly, where Henson defied it calmly and quietly but no less resolutely.

    Jim Henson’s Muppets are a perfect example of diversity in action, of wildly different people working together for a common good, of the revolutionary notion that one needn’t alter oneself or conform to societal expectations in order to “fit in”; all that fitting in requires is that you show up and do your part to the best of your unique ability. All of us, from dancing pigs to boomerang fish-throwers, can be part of a great big family if we want to, and we don’t have to be boring to do it. That’s awesome, and from all appearances, it’s exactly what Henson built at his own company, and God bless him for it.

  2. As I was reading the article, and your comments, I had the Rainbow Connection playing in my head, and my eyes got a little misty.

    I remember that ABC Sunday night special The Muppets’ Tribute, and everyone in my family started crying when, at the end, the muppets start reading these letters by children saying how sad they are that “they’re friend is dead”. Through her tears, all my mom could say was, “I bet those are real letters…”

    And now I think it’s such a tragic paradox for people in general that we can’t seem to celebrate the treasures left for us by someone without also feeling a weighing grief of his/her passing.

  3. My mom was 8 months pregnant with me when Jim Henson died, and it still hurts. I’ve always loved Jim’s creations, shows, movies, ever since I could walk. His creations are a very important part of my life, and now my young daughters as well. My his memory live on in his creations, and pass from generation to generation.

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