Muppet Mayhem (Part 4): The Muppets Remember Jim Henson (and a Jim Henson Retrospective)

On May 16th, 1990, Jim Henson passed away from a bacterial infection at the age of 53, and it was a death that shook the world. Jim Henson died before it was his time to leave this earth. There was so much more that he could have achieved if he was just given the time. When he was on this little blue planet, though, his creations left a lasting impression on the world and as such, there would be a memorial for him, but who would do it? Why not the lovable bunch of monsters and animals that he set upon the world? The Muppets are tasked in the filming of a memorial for Jim Henson, but they don’t know who he is. Through a number of guest stars, they learn about the man who created them and end up putting on a very touching memorial for one of the most creative and important men in showbusiness.

The show blends comedy and intense emotions in a very effective manner. The meta humour reaches a new level of weirdness when the Muppets actually adress the fact that there is someone below them controlling them and even don’t know what a puppet is at one point. They interact with the guest recordings and end up planning one of the silliest shows ever (seriously, it involves Vikings, a tap dancing Whoopie cushion, and accountants) until they find a bunch of letters to Kermit talking about his best friend Jim and how he touched their lives and that they send their condolences. As soon as they pulled out the folder of letters, I said out loud “oh no, oh no no no” as I knew that this was going to be the point that the Muppets made me cry deeply and heavily.

They did not fail at this goal. I was emotionally broken through that segment and the inspirational music number until Kermit came in and told them that they did a great job. The fact that Kermit wasn’t there throughout the entire special gave a weight to it with a thought of “would the Muppets continue after this?” when the special first aired, but he showed up to tell us that “we’ll see you soon with more Muppet stuff, because that’s the way the boss would want it!” All fears were put to rest, and the characters became something more that day. Even more than ever, they were their own people. They weren’t just puppets, they were alive. Even if their puppeteer left, someone else would step in to keep the world smiling and laughing. Jim Henson did not want the world to mourn his death (his wishes were that there would be a dixieland band at his funeral and no one was to wear black), but instead to celebrate his life.

“The most sophisticated people I know – inside they are all children. ” – Jim Henson

Jim Henson was one of the most important people in my life that I never actually met or directly interacted with. He taught me through Sesame Street how to say the alphabet, how to count, how to spell and do math and even about different cultures. Through Fraggle Rock he taught me not to treat people different because of their colour or religion. Through the Muppets, he taught me about the idea of unconventional families and that no matter what, there would always be someone by your side even if you are a weirdo. But most importantly, in everything he did he taught me that someone can find happiness in anything and everything, even a simple piece of felt attached to a sleeve and dowels. Jim and his cohorts entertained me to no end through the puppets he made real.

Even more important that how he affected me was how he actively made the world a better place.

“My hope is to leave the world a little better for my having been there.” – Jim Henson

You did, Jim. Sesame Street is broadcast in 140 countries around the world and many of those countries are ones where children normally do not have any hope for a good education, so Sesame Street is specifically designed to incite a desire to learn in everyone who watches it with the hope that it will actually allow them to have a better life. It gives both the children and their parents hope that the cycle will be broken, and inspiring that level of hope is one of the hardest things to do, but Jim Henson managed to not do it just once, but thousands of times.

“As children, we all live in a world of imagination, of fantasy, and for some of us that world of make-believe continues into adulthood.” – Jim Henson

This is honestly one of the hardest posts for me to write (I’ve actually tried to write a post similar to this in the past, but I just couldn’t finish it). How do you speak about someone who educated and entertained you practically from birth? How do you manage to convey intense emotions into words? To me, Kermit the Frog is not a puppet, he is a living being, and Jim Henson isn’t just the man who controlled him and gave him a voice, he is Kermit’s dad. The Jim Henson company has gone to But I know that Jim did make Kermit the frog we know him as, that he did provide that nasally voice, operated those wonderful flailing arms, and made those amazingly emotive facial movements with his fingers.

Thank you, Jim Henson, for having a profound effect on my life, and thank you for being a source of joy for millions upon millions of people the world over.

Just as a warning, this song will more than likely make you cry like a baby, but it pretty accurately sums up my feelings in a much more coherent manner:

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