It’s a sad day for Muppet fans (that’s all of you, right? At least casually? Tell me it’s all of you): Jane Nebel Henson, former wife of the late Jim Henson, passed away following a lengthy battle with cancer.
Jane was much, much more than Jim’s wife, though. She was his creative partner, collaborating with him from the very beginning of his career. Writes Tough Pigs, “While Jim was quietly revolutionizing TV puppetry and advertising [with Sam and Friends and his famous Wilkins Coffee ads], Jane was right there beside him. She was history’s second-ever Muppeteer.”
Excuse me, I just have something in my eye…
Jim and Jane were married from 1959 to 1986, when they were legally separated, but even after that Jane remained Jim’s close friend and trusted advisor. Over the decades they had five children, and though Jane eventually stopped performing (Tough Pigs’ Ryan Roe says he “would not be surprised at all to learn she occasionally lent a hand or two to one of the various huge Muppet group shots over the years.”) she still remained an integral part of the Muppet world.
Jane was a board member of the Muppet Foundation, created in 1982 to advocate for and develop the art of puppetry. She also founded the Jim Henson Legacy following Jim’s untimely death in 1990 and the Jane Henson Foundation in 2001 to do some philanthropic work of her own. She was particularly good at recruiting talent: Tough Pigs recalls an anecdote where Muppeteer Steve Whitmire, who would eventually take over the role of Kermit following Jim’s death, “essentially auditioned for Jane at an airport” before even meeting Jim.
Jane Nebel Henson is survived by her five children with Jim: Lisa, Cheryl, Brian, Jon, and Heather. She was 78.