Jim Henson Biography


Birthday: September 24, 1936 (Libra)

Born In: Greenville, Mississippi, United States

Jim Henson was an American puppeteer, animator, cartoonist and filmmaker, equally popular with children and adults. Today he is also remembered as the creator of the Muppets, a term he devised by melding two words; ‘marionettes’ and ‘puppets’.  He developed a love for puppeteering while still in his elementary school, performing puppets for his friends, debuting on television while in his senior year at the high school with a Saturday morning children's show. Later as a freshman in college, he started a successful television series called ‘Sam and Friends’. But it was only after he graduated from Maryland University that he started taking it up as his profession, creating hordes of characters like Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, Miss Piggy, Big Bird, and the Cookie Monster, which remain equally popular today However, an early and unexpected death cut short his successful career, passing away from streptococcus pneumonia at the age of fifty-three.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: James Maury Henson

Died At Age: 53


Spouse/Ex-: Jane Nebel ​ ​ (1959-1986)

father: Paul Ransom Henson

mother: Betty Henson

siblings: Paul Ransom Henson Jr

children: Brian Henson, Cheryl Henson, Heather Henson, John Henson, Lisa Henson

Born Country: United States

Animators Directors

Height: 1.91 m

Died on: May 16, 1990

place of death: Manhattan, New York City, United States

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

U.S. State: Mississippi

Founder/Co-Founder: Jim Henson's Creature Shop, The Jim Henson Company, Jim Henson Foundation

More Facts

education: University of Maryland

Childhood & Early Years

Jim Henson was born as James Maury Henson on September 24, 1936, in Greenville, a city located in the US state of Mississippi. However, he spent his early childhood in nearby Leland.

His father, Paul Ransom Henson, was an agronomist for the United States Department of Agriculture. His mother’s name was Betty Marcella née Brown. Born younger of his parents’ two children, he had an elder brother called Paul Ransom Henson, Jr.

Jim began his education at Leland, studying there till he was in his fifth grade. By then, he had started performing puppetry for his fellow Cub Scouts. As a child, he was very close to his maternal grandmother, who encouraged his creative passion and helped him to develop his imagination.

In 1948-49, Jim moved with his family to University Park, Maryland. Here he attended Northwestern High School, eventually graduating from there in 1954. All the while, he continued to evolve as an artist, designing sets for school plays and also acting in them.

Arrival of the family's first television was another high point of his adolescence. Jim was greatly influenced by puppeteer Burr Tillstrom’s show, Kukla, Fran and Ollie. Radio ventriloquist, Edgar Bergen, also had great influence on him.

In 1954, while he was still in his senior year in school, he had his first dalliance with television, performing puppets for a Saturday morning children's show called The Junior Morning Show on WTOP-TV. Later in the same year, he entered University of Maryland, College Park.

Although initially his aim was to become a commercial artist, he continued with puppeteering, co-creating a five-minute puppet show called Sam and Friends for WRC-TV, in his freshman year. In this project, he was assisted by Jane Nebel, his fellow student and future wife.

First aired on May 9, 1955, Sam and Friends ended on December 15, 1961, running for more than six years, evolving all the way with the addition of new characters. Meanwhile in 1958, he founded his own company, Muppets Inc, which later became The Jim Henson Company.

In 1960, Henson graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in home economics. Still not sure if puppeteering was the right career choice, he traveled briefly to Europe, where he met many puppeteers, who looked upon it as a form of art. Inspired, he once again returned to the USA.

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Back in USA, Jim Henson began his career with commercials and children projects. Most noteworthy among them was a series for the Wilkins Coffee company, in which he used Muppets to attract the attention of the audience. His main character, Wilkins, became so popular that he soon syndicated it.

Soon his characters were not only promoting coffees of various other companies, but also breads, soft drinks, milk, jackpot lottery etc. Concurrently; he began making guest appearances on talk and variety shows like ‘The Steve Allen Show’, ‘The Jack Paar Program, ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ etc.

From 1963 onwards, he began exploring filmmaking, producing a series of experimental films, the most significant of them being Time Piece (1965). The Cube (1969) is another of his important work in this field.

Gaining International Fame

In 1969, Jim Henson shot to fame when he agreed to use his Muppets for a revolutionary educational show called Sesame Street. Produced by Children's Television Workshop, it was first aired on November 10, 1969, on PBS and became a smash hit, making him nationally famous.

For the show, he created number of new characters like Big Bird, Ernie, Bert, Oscar the Grouch, Grover, Snuffulupagus and Elmo, which became hugely popular. He now stopped doing commercials and concentrated solely on creativity.

Unfortunately, his work in Sesame Street also typecast him as a children’s entertainer. To disprove that he tried to target adult audience with The Muppet Valentine Show (1974) and The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence (1975). But no American broadcaster showed any interest in them.

In 1976, he moved to England on the invitation of Lew Grade and eventually the production of The Muppet Show began there. Premiering on 5 September 1976 the comedy television series ran for five seasons (120 episodes), ending on 23 May 1981.

In 1979, Jenson debuted on the big screen as the producer of a musical road comedy film called The Muppet Movie, also performing in it as Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, Waldorf, and Swedish Chef. It proved to be a huge hit at the box office, grossing $76,657,000 in the United States and Canada.

In 1982, he co-directed The Dark Crystal with Frank Oz. Next in 1984, The Jim Henson Company produced The Muppets Take Manhattan under the direction of Oz. Also in 1984, he created Jim Henson's Muppet Babies, which ran on CBS from September 15, 1984 to November 2, 1991

In 1986, Henson directed Labyrinth. But its poor performance at the box office greatly disappointed him. Yet, he continued to work, creating Fraggle Rock and The Story Teller in 1987, and Jim Henson Hour’ in 1989.

In 1989, he entered into negotiations to sell his company to The Walt Disney Company for almost $150 million. He hoped that it would allow him to concentrate more on his creative activities, completing ‘Muppet’ Vision 3D' before he died in 1990.

Major Works

Jim Henson is perhaps best remembered for his 1976 work, The Muppet Show. Although initially it struggled in the ratings it became a smash hit in the second season, eventually becoming the most widely watched series in television history.

Family & Personal Life & Legacy

Henson married Jane Nebel on May 28, 1959 and fathered five children, Brian, Lisa, Heather, Cheryl and John, with her. They separated in 1986, mainly because he remained fully engrossed in his work, having no time for his family. The couple never divorced.

After suffering from a brief bout of streptococcus pneumonia, he died unexpectedly on May 16, 1990. At least 1000 people attended his public funeral at Manhattan’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine on May 21. In accordance of his wish, no one wore black. His characters also made their appearances.


Primetime Emmy Awards
1989 Outstanding Directing in a Variety or Music Program The Jim Henson Hour (1989)
1989 Outstanding Special Events Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting (1989)
1987 Outstanding Children's Program The Storyteller (1987)
1978 Outstanding Comedy-Variety or Music Series The Muppet Show (1976)
BAFTA Awards
1992 Best Children's Programme (Fiction) The Storyteller: Greek Myths (1990)
1978 Most Original Programme/Series The Muppet Show (1976)
Grammy Awards
1987 Best Recording for Children Winner
1986 Best Recording for Children Winner
1982 Best Recording for Children Winner
1980 Best Recording for Children The Muppet Movie (1979)
1979 Best Recording for Children The Muppet Show (1976)
1971 Best Recording for Children Sesame Street (1969)

See the events in life of Jim Henson in Chronological Order

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