Jim Henson was born in Greenville, Mississippi, on September 24, 1936.
The creator of the Muppets (a made up word for his type of puppet, sometimes claimed to be a combination of puppet and marionette), Henson started out as a puppeteer while in high school. By the time he was a freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park, he was being asked to create a five minute puppet show for local TV station, WRC-TV, called Sam and Friends. It was here that the prototype of the Muppets was first seen, including an early version of Henson's signature character, Kermit-the-Frog.
It was while doing Sam and Friends from 1954 to 1961, that Henson met Jane Nebel, who he married in 1959.
Sam and Friends was successful, but wound up doing many Commercials. Henson's theory was that up to that point, the hard-sell had been the only way to sell things on television, why not make people laugh to sell things instead.
In 1963, Henson and his wife, moved to New York. He had earlier formed Muppets, Inc, with his wife, but by this point, she quit muppeteering to raise their children. Henson in turn hired Frank Oz and Jerry Juhl, who with Henson were the core of the writing team, and the people Henson credited with creating the humor and character of his Muppets.
During the 60s Henson and his Muppets, particularly Rowlf, the piano-playing, anthropomorphic dog, made regular appearances on the Jimmy Dean Show. At this time, Henson also started exploring film-making, and was nominated for an Oscar in 1966.
In 1969, things would change completely, Henson was asked to work on Sesame Street, which he agreed to do. Henson was credited with having a great deal to do with the success of Sesame Street, even by the creator of the show, Joan Ganz Cooney.
From 1975 to 1978, Henson's Muppets made appearances on the fledgling Saturday Night Live. The writers of the show were never comfortable writing for, and were frequently disparaging of Henson's creations, with one writer stating unequivocally, "I won't write for felt."
This expansion into adult audiences, eventually begat, the Muppet Show. Henson initially approached the US networks, but was rebuffed by executives who believed that the appeal would be limited to children. Henson found a receptive audience in the United Kingdom, where Lew Grade agreed to finance the show. The show was a success and ran for five seasons. The show eventually spawned movies, and other spin-off TV shows.
Henson also started to venture into more elaborate, and sometimes darker projects, such as The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth.
In 1986, Henson and his wife separated, though they remained close for the rest of his life, and never actually divorced. Jane indicated that his work took almost all his time, and all five of his children began working with Muppets at an early age, at least partially due to the fact that, "One of the best ways of being around him was to work with him."
In 1990, Jim Henson, and his "Jim Henson's Creature Shop" in London, created the turtles for the feature movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He was also developing a series eventually released in 1991, called Dinosaurs, which was a typical sitcom, but starring dinosaurs.
On May 4, 1990, Henson appeared on the Arsenio Hall show, after which he noted to his publicist that he was tired and had a sore throat, but felt that it would go away. On May 12, Henson went to North Carolina with one of his children to visit his father and step-mother. While in NC, he visited a doctor who examined him and found no evidence of pneumonia. At 2 am on May 15, Henson, who had returned to New York early, and cancelled a Muppet recording session, told his wife who was visiting with him, that he might be dying, but did not want to bother going to the hospital, in spite of the fact he was having trouble breathing and coughing up blood. Henson having been raised Christian Scientist, may have had religious reasons, but Jane felt it was more likely due to his desire not to be a bother to people. Henson agreed to go to New York Hospital, (now New York-Presbyrterian Hospital) two hours later, being admitted at 4:58 AM. Henson, could no longer breathe on his own, and had abscesses in his lungs. His condition worsened quickly into septic shock, and in spite of aggressive treatment with multiple antibiotics, Henson suffered two cardiac arrests after his admission.
Jim Henson died on the Morning of May 16 at 53 years of age. His legacy continued with his companies continuing on after his death. He is one of only three people to be honored as both himself and as a character, Kermit the Frog, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the others being Mel Blanc, with Bugs Bunny, and Walt Disney, with Mickey Mouse.