Jane Nebel Henson died in her Connecticut home today after a long battle with cancer. A memorial mass is planned for next week. She met Jim Henson in a puppetry class at the University of Maryland and soon after became an integral creative and business partner with him to form the Muppets. They began performing together on NBC’s D.C. affiliate station WRC-TV while she was an undergraduate. Their show, Sam And Friends, took off and soon they were doing guest spots on Steve Allen’s Tonight Show. They were married in 1959, and she gave birth to Lisa Henson, Cheryl Henson, Brian Henson, John Henson and Heather Henson. Brian is currently chairman and Lisa is CEO of The Jim Henson Co, which continues to generate Muppets films.
She continued to contribute to what became The Jim Henson Co empire, collaborating with her husband on a traveling museum exhibit The Art Of The Muppets, and The Muppet Show On Tour and Sesame Street Live arena stage shows. She also launched the careers of many puppeteers who joined the company and served on the board of The Jim Henson Foundation, which he started in 1982 and which is now run by Cheryl Henson. The mission is to promote and develop the art of puppetry. Later, she funded and founded The Jim Henson Legacy to conserve, preserve and present the artistic contribution of Jim Henson. In 2001, she created the Jane Henson Foundation, a philanthropic enterprise.
Legally separated in 1986, Jim and Jane Henson continued to share their love for the Muppets. After he died suddenly in 1990, she would often speak to the public about her late husband’s body of work and how “Jim wanted to leave the world a better place.” According to Arthur Novell, the trustee of The Jim Henson Legacy, “most would agree they both did.”