Jane Henson, the business partner and former wife of Muppets creator Jim Henson, has died. She was 78 years old.
Jane, who passed away on Tuesday at her Connecticut home following a long battle with cancer, helped create many of the puppets that made the Henson name famous. In a statement from the Hensons’ five children, she was described as an “integral creative and business partner” in the hit TV show and The Jim Henson Company.
Jane Henson was born in Queens, New York, in 1934, and was a puppeteer some time before meeting her future husband. In the mid-1950s, she met Jim Henson in a puppetry class at the University of Maryland, and the two went on to create the five-minute television program Sam and Friends, a precursor to the Muppets. The show was broadcast as a lead-in to The Tonight Show Starring Steve Allen and The Huntley-Brinkley Report.
Henson put work on hold in the early-1960s to raise her children, but soon returned to play a significant role in finding talent for the Muppets show. She was also an occasional performer on Sesame Street.
Jane, who is survived by her five children, separated from her husband in 1986. When a 53-year-old Jim Henson passed away in 1990 with organ failure following a bacterial infection, she founded The Jim Henson Legacy to promote his work.
A private, quietly spoken woman, she gave very few interviews to the media; you can watch one of the rare exceptions below. There’s also a picture gallery of Jane’s life here.
Everyone at The Jim Henson Legacy will dearly miss our founder Jane Nebel Henson (1934-2013). henson.com/jane.html
— Jim Henson Legacy (@JimHensonLegacy) April 2, 2013