Jane Henson, co-creator of the Muppets and widow of Jim Henson, died on Tuesday at her Connecticut home at the age of 78. Henson had been battling cancer for several years.
The Jim Henson Company announced her death in a statement on their website and is celebrating her legacy throughout the week. Jane Nebel was born in St. Albans, Queens, N.Y., on June 16, 1934, and met Jim Henson at a University of Maryland puppetry class, soon becoming a vital part of the creation of the Muppets. Jane completed her undergraduate studies in 1955 and remained involved with the Muppets on the “Sam and Friends” show which aired on WRC-TV, an NBC affiliate station in Washington, D.C., notes the statement.
As the popularity of the Muppets increased, Jane worked as a creative and business partner while also being a puppeteer and a puppet designer. Jane and Jim were married in 1959. In addition to working with her husband on the Muppets, Jane also worked as an assistant art teacher at the Mead School for Human Development in Stamford, Conn.
As the Muppets, and "Sesame Street," became popular around the globe, Jane worked with Jim on “The Muppet Show,” “Sesame Street” and the Muppet movies, notes the Los Angeles Times. Jane also helped developed the Art of the Muppets museum exhibit, the Muppet Show on Tour and Sesame Street Live. According to the statement, Jane also helped recruit many of the top puppeteers at the Jim Henson Company.
Jane Henson was also a philanthropist, founding the Jim Henson Legacy in 1992, serving on the board of the Jim Henson Foundation and, later, founding the Jane Henson Foundation. The Jim Henson Foundation gives grants to aspiring puppet artists and provides public awareness efforts about puppetry. The Jim Henson Legacy serves to honor the artistic and creative legacy of Jim Henson.
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Jane Henson also served to spread the merits and developments of puppetry through a variety of institutions including the Paley Center in New York, the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, where she co-founded the National Puppetry Conference, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the Union Internationale de la Marionette and the Center of Puppetry Arts in Atlanta.
Jim and Jane legally separated in 1986 but the two continued to work on the Muppets. Jane Henson is survived by her five children, Lisa, Cheryl, Brian, John and Heather. A memorial Mass will be held next week.