Watch these early films now, and you can see how much Henson
valued human connection. Though it’s only a minute long, Wheels That Go
pulsates with parental love, as Henson aims the camera at his young son. The
takes the simple act of tossing a pebble into a pond and transforms it into a
meditation on art, religion and family.
With the Muppets, Henson entertained us, but that desire for
connection remained at the forefront. Some of the most poignant Sesame
Street moments I remember are when real kids interacted with Henson’s characters as if they
were classmates. The more young viewers bonded with Big Bird and pals through
the screen, the more adults began watching alongside them.Though too
humble to admit it, Jim Henson brought millions of families closer together.
Henson was an innovator from the start: At a time when many
TV puppets relied on wood and strings, he opted for softer materials like felt
and foam. This enabled his creations to express a range of emotions, unlike,
say, an eternally grinning Howdy Doody.
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In the ‘70s, Henson began to explore animatronics. Though
1982’s The Dark Crystal wasn’t a critical success, its arresting visuals
made lasting impressions
on viewers. Animatronics popped up again in 1986’s Labyrinth, an
elaborate musical fantasy that, like The Dark Crystal, failed to ignite
the box office but went on to become a beloved cult hit.
“It’s really amazing to think that in 1989 his twin
obsessions were CG animation and 3-D stereoscopic,” his daughter, Lisa Henson,
noted in a 2011
Jim Henson’s death of a bacterial infection on May 16, 1990,
shocked fans and friends worldwide. Less than two weeks earlier, the
53-year-old artist had appeared
on The Arsenio Hall Show, cracking jokes with Kermit on his arm.
Press surrounding his May 21 memorial service was on par
with prominent political figures. Mourners wore Kermit greens, Big Bird yellows
and other vibrant hues; Henson once declared he wanted no black at his funeral.
During the service, Harry Belafonte sang Turn the World Around.
Frank Oz, Henson’s longtime collaborator, gave a moving and funny eulogy.
Puppeteers belted out a
medley of Henson’s favorite tunes, and Big Bird sang a version of It’s Not Easy Being
Greenthat’s so heartbreaking I get teary-eyed just thinking