John Henson Dies Muppets Show Must Go On

John Henson

John Henson, heir to the Muppets’ empire died in New York. He was 48 years old.

Describing the event, Cheryl Henson says her brother suffered a heart attack shortly after he was playing outside with his daughter. Tragically, they had been building an igloo in the snow. Though he died unexpectedly, John Henson will be remembered for his important contribution to the Muppets; sadly the show must go on without him.

John Henson was heir to an incredible legacy. His father, Jim Henson was considered to be one of the world’s most famous puppeteers. He created beloved Sesame Street characters: Elmo, Big Bird, duo Bert and Ernie, Miss Piggy and most notably, Kermit the Frog.

Originally from Mississippi, John Henson’s parents first moved to New York in 1963. Just six years later, the Sesame Street show aired on TV and became an instant success.

Father, Jim Henson revolutionized puppeteering thanks to his innovative use of materials. Henson moved away from the tradition of using wood puppets. He felt the construction did not allow a full range of emotions. His puppets were uniquely crafted from foam rubber and covered with fabric. This gave the characters large, flexible mouths that made them both loveable and expressive. The name Muppets is a reference to “marionette puppets”, cleverly combining the two words.

The Hensons were known for their technical expertise and great story telling capabilities, which audiences, children especially, found relatable. Though John Henson died, it is certain The Muppets Show will go on–a testament to the universal, yet timeless appeal of the characters. Kermit the Frog is the most memorable personality, as host of the show.

The Walt Disney Company now owns the rights to Kermit the Frog. However, it gave permission to Sesame Workshop to show old segments in video and DVDs.

John Henson’s father also died young at the age of 53, following a battle with pneumonia. It is estimated he had a net worth of $20 million.

John Henson
Sweetums, a character John Henson performed.

John Henson continued his father’s puppeteering legacy. He is best remembered for his performance as Sweetums, the ogre in films like “Muppet Treasure Island” and “It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie”. He was also a board member of the Jim Henson Company; though he was not involved in daily operations.

Headquartered in Los Angles, the company is independently owned and operated by Jim Henson’s children. It is a world leader in family entertainment. With over 50 Emmy Awards and nine Grammy Awards, the company was recently nominated for shows like Dinosaur Train and Sid the Science Kid. The company also has locations in New York and London along with one of the top recording studios in the country.

A dedicated artist, John Henson was also known for his role as the much loved Coca-Cola Bear. Biographer, Brian Jay Jones noted he shared his father’s outlook and great attention to detail. He was an artist at heart, involved in an extensive renovation project of a historic property.

John Henson died on Valentine’s Day, though his family must go on living without him, it is certain his legacy will live through the Muppets Show and a new generation of viewers. The puppeteer is survived by his wife and two daughters. His five siblings: Lisa, Cheryl, Brian and Heather will undoubtedly pay a heartfelt tribute in a private funeral, which is being planned by the family.

By Simone Innamorati


ABC News

University of Mississippi

The Jim Henson Company

LA Times

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