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2015 Jim Henson
A television pioneer, an innovator in puppetry, technology and visual arts, and a performer who brought to life some of the most memorable characters ever (including the world's most famous frog, Kermit™), Jim Henson was an extraordinary artist and visionary.
In 1954, while still in high school, Jim began his television career performing puppets on a local Washington, DC, Saturday morning program on WTOP-TV. The following year, as a freshman at the University of Maryland, he was given his own twice-daily, five-minute show, Sam and Friends, on the local NBC affiliate, WRC-TV. Jim -- along with his assistant, fellow student and future wife, Jane Nebel -- introduced many Muppet mainstays: music, humor and innovative technical tricks (such as eliminating the puppet stage and using the television itself as the proscenium). Perhaps most memorably, the show featured an early version of Kermit the Frog™.
The success of Sam and Friends led to appearances on such national programs as The Steve Allen Show, The Jack Paar Show and Today. In 1961, as Muppets", Inc. grew, Jim and Jane began working with other talented artists, including puppeteer and writer Jerry Juhl, master puppet builder Don Sahlin, young puppeteer Frank Oz and producer David Lazer. Together, they helped develop the Muppets' first nationally known character, Rowlf the Dog. Between 1964 and 1969, Jim produced several experimental films, including the award-winning Time Piece, Youth '68, and The Cube.
Based on Jim's creative reputation, public television producer Joan Ganz Cooney asked Jim to create a family of characters to populate Sesame Street, which premiered in 1969. These characters -- Ernie and Bert, Oscar the Grouch, Grover, Cookie Monster and Big Bird -- continue to entertain and educate children today. Working with Children's Television Workshop (recently renamed Sesame Workshop) on Sesame Street, Jim also had the opportunity to continue experimenting with film techniques. Together with his talented team, Jim produced more than two dozen live action and animated shorts that are still teaching children how to count, learn the alphabet and master other educational concepts.
Sesame Street demonstrated the Muppets' undeniable appeal to children, but Jim believed these characters could entertain a much wider family audience. In 1975, production began on The Muppet Show, and soon the world was introduced to a new family of unforgettable characters: Miss Piggy™, Fozzie Bear,™ Animal,™ The Great Gonzo,™; Scooter,™ Lew Zealand,™ and Rizzo the Rat™. Hosted by Kermit the Frog and accompanied by Doctor Teeth™ and the Electric Mayhem Band™, the Muppets were joined each week by a Who’s Who of talent, from Julie Andrews and Gene Kelly to Steve Martin and John Cleese. The success of The Muppet Show naturally led to Hollywood, where the Muppets starred in six feature films: The Muppet Movie™, The Great Muppet Caper™, The Muppets Take Manhattan™, The Muppet Christmas Carol™, Muppet Treasure Island™ and, most recently, Muppets From Space™.
During the 1980s, in addition to making Muppet movies, Jim brought two remarkably original fantasy films to the big screen: The Dark Crystal™ and Labyrinth™. The multi-talented staff that helped create these two films formed the basis for what is now known as Jim Henson's Creature Shop™. Founded in 1979, it continues to set industry standards in animatronics, performance and performance technology. During the 1980s, Jim also created memorable television series and specials, including: Fraggle Rock™, Jim Henson's Muppet Babies™, Jim Henson's The Storyteller™, and Jim Henson's Greek Myths™.
Jim's final project was MuppetVision 3*D, a short multi-media film and interactive attraction, which he directed and which currently runs at Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park in Walt Disney World and at Disney California Adventure.
On May 16, 1990, after a brief illness, Jim Henson died in New York City.