Today marks what would have been Jim Henson’s 75th birthday.
Jim Henson died on May 16, 1990 – same day as Sammy Davis Jr. I will remember Jim Henson’s death and its impact on my small life forever.
I’ve never actually written down my feelings about Jim Henson and his Muppets and what they mean to me before. So, here goes.
When Jim Henson died, I was 14 years old. I guess you could say that I wasn’t a typical 14 year old, in that sometimes I was attune to more mature feelings about life and death. Blame it on my upbringing, life experiences whatever. It is what it is, and there’s nothing else to do about it.
I was ready to go to school that morning, when the DJ on Montreal’s 990 Hits broke the news that Jim Henson had died.
It was like he had just thrown a boulder into the pit of my stomach.
I didn’t know Jim Henson, but I knew his work and even as a 14 year old boy, I knew that if you loved his Muppets then you just loved Jim Henson. I had seen him in interviews here and there and he seemed friendly and kind – much like his creations were.
The DJ that morning played “The Rainbow Connection” on the radio – and I sat on my bed all alone, the sun shining hot through my bedroom window. And I cried to myself. I cried a lot.
To say that I love the Muppets is quite possibly the hugest understatement. I was a child born of television, and the Muppets somehow connected to my heart in an real indescribable deep way. A resonating way. They were misfits which I felt like I was too, they were ridiculously wacky and funny – something that I gravitated towards as well. And they all sang together as a family – something I loved to witness.
Besides that, I also loved the technical and creative to Henson and his imagination and puppetry. It amazed me that I could focus on a Muppet and not see the puppeteer that clearly made his or her every move come alive. That is an amazing feat of magic that not every person can do.
I can still remember watching Sesame Street as a child and being brought into a world where these creatures were my friends. I can remember watching The Muppet Show and also feeling the same way. I have clear memories of myself going to the theatre and seeing The Great Muppet Caper and also seeing The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan on VHS and rewatching key scenes in each film.
I remember thinking how cool Jim Henson must be that not only could he tap into light but he could also tap into dark with The Dark Crystal and Labrynth, both of which scared the crap out of me as a child.
And I can remember getting choked up when Big Bird realizes that Mr. Hooper had died and how his friends were talking to him to help him understand (the thought of which as I type this right now, I still get teary).
And “The Rainbow Connection”. Kermit singing his song with his banjo. Gets me every time. Because when I hear it, I think of that 14 year old boy sitting on his bed feeling really sad that Jim Henson had died – someone, now that I think about it, that I had hoped that one day I would meet in person.
So, here we are 21 years after his death and on his birthday. From no forcing of my own (at least not consciously), I now have a daughter who loves her Muppets in a very familiar way. And now I have a viewing partner to rewatch these funny, precious moments with – and we will laugh. A lot.