Saturday, May 16, 2015

Jim Henson's death, 25 years later.

Some days are burned into our memory 9/11, comes to mind though if you're older then me then the fall of the Berlin wall, the moon landing, or Pearl Harbor may be one of those days for you as well. But another milestone date reaches it's anniversary today; for 25 years ago today, the world lost Jim Henson.

It's one of those days were I can recall exactly where I was when I found out. I was a Muppet fan since birth. To this day when people ask how I got into the Muppets I have a hard time explaining exactly how I grew to love them because I just always had. 

During the late 80's Jim Henson began working on all kinds of fantastic projects and I followed wherever his imagination went. My mom says The Muppets Take Manhattan was the first movie and I yelled at the screen hoping Kermit would hear me, though I don't recall any of this as I was too young.  But do remember Seeing Follow That Bird and Labyrinth in the theater.

By 1989, The Muppets hadn't been on TV regularly since Fraggle Rock ended in 1987. I wasn't a huge fan of Muppet Babies (particularity since people of the era called everything Jim Henson did at the time "Muppet Babies") and didn't watch Sesame Street as it was while I was at school and these were the days were no one quiet knew how to set a VCR to record while you weren't home. 

Anyway, 1989 was an exciting time as The Muppet were returning to TV in along with episodes of The Storyteller NBC hadn't yet aired. From the moment The Jim Henson Hour premiered, I knew I was witnessing something special. There was just so much that no one had ever seen done on TV before. The use of technology was astounding. In hindsight it was a little cold, using so much blue screen, but it didn't matter. The Muppets were back along with all the cool fantasy stuff as well and there was Jim front and center.  

As you can imagine, I was crushed when after bouncing from Friday night to occasional 
Sundays, The Jim Henson Hour was cancelled.  

Less then a year later though there was news floating around that Jim was going to sell the company to Disney so he could spend more time on the creative side coming up with even more new and crazy worlds and inventing new technologist to visualize them. 

This was all going to be announced via the TV special The Muppets at Walt Disney World which would be airing that May. 

The promos started running and I couldn't wait to see another great Muppet special. Their last special was the amazing, world combing Muppet Family Christmas in 1987 (which I watched every year since). I knew there wouldn't be any Sesame or Fraggle characters appearing but it didn't matter. 

This was going to be The Muppets, outside like in the movies and interacting with the world as we know it. Not only that, they were going to the happiest place on earth! For a 10 year old, it was an exhilarating time. Jim even made an appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show on May 4th 1990 to promote the special. 

As a child, I'm not sure if I begged my parents to let me stay up and watch or not (though I probably snuck down and watched part of it anyway). 

The Muppets at Walt Disney World aired and it was everything I was hoping it could be! It had all the great Muppet Show characters back, seamlessly incorporated Bean and Clifford from The Jim Henson Hour, and even had the Muppets interacting with an animated Mickey Mouse - almost like a mini Muppet version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit!

They even advertised the Muppets' arrival at the actual park! (gotta love Disney synergy)

The Muppets were on a streak! This time, not only would they have specials and 
fantasy/creature shop stuff, they were going to do all this cool new Muppet stuff at the new Disney MGM theme park - including their very own section, live stage shows and a 3D movie! I couldn't wait to go and see it all. 

12 days later I was still on a Muppet high. I came home from school and my dad asked me to sit down on the couch. He had something to tell me. I didn't want to sit and have talk. I wanted go out side and play or watch Muppets - anything but have a serious conversation. What was so important that couldn't wait? Was I in trouble or something?  But I sat down on the couch and heard:

Jim Henson died. 

I was in total shock. All these thoughts began rushing through me head. How could this be?? I mean I just Kermit on TV last week. There was all this stuff in the news about Disney World. What do you mean he's dead?? As it began to sink in I can remember just crying 
uncontrollably for what seemed like an hour. 

I made sure to record the news, in case there was any mention of how, why, or even the slightest chance it was a mistake. But make no mistake, Jim Henson was gone. Everyone was shocked. Seasoned television personalizes were visibly shaken reading the news. 

My world was forever changed. I didn't want to go to school the next day I was in a daze and could just hear the kids at school. Everyone knew I was a huge Muppet fan, and the Muppets, since as not being related to some sporting event or pizza loving mutant ninjas (at least not yet) weren't popular or cool to like in my class. I was made fun of constantly for my Muppet obsession, so I could only imagine the torture I was going to endure from classmates knowing my hero had died. 

Surprisingly I don't recall any real blow back. In fact, the only thing I remember about that day was it was a total blur. I still wasn't sure if I was in some sort of nightmare that I couldn't wake up from. I do recall some classmates saying they were sorry to hear the news, which just made it all the more real. 

In the weeks ahead I heard about Jim's memorial service in New York, which even though it was only a few hours away I sadly wasn't allowed to go. 

In November of that year The Muppets made a special for the millions of fans around the 
world to say goodbye and pay tribute to Jim's legacy. At the end, The Muppets read real letter from fans. I knew I couldn't be the only one reeling from the loss, but this was before the internet, or even MuppetZine. The reading of those letters was a validity that I wasn't alone in my feelings. To this day I can't watch the scene with crying just like a did when I first saw it. 

25 years later, and it's still as sharp as if it were yesterday. There's a scene in The Muppet Christmas Carol were they talk about the death of Tiny Tim, and even though it's right out of the original text, it's gut-wrenchingly clear they're also talking about Jim Henson. Richard Hunt had died before the movie was made and you can they are also referring to him as well. 

Since then Jerry Juhl, Jerry Nelson, and Jane Henson (J words!) have left us and though each hurt, the sting was wasn't as harsh. As Robin said, a part of them is there every time we watch The Muppets. For as Jim Henson was prone to do, he taught us a lesson in copying with loss, this time without even knowing it. 

The out pouring of tributes to Jim this week, not just from fan sites such as this, but from major sites such as Variety and Entertainment Tonight, plus the fact that a new Muppet series is coming this fall prove that the world still misses you, Jim Henson. 

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