You probably know Jim Henson best as the creator of the Muppets, and the visionary behind such iconic characters as Kermit the Frog (who Henson also voiced), Big Bird, Miss Piggy, Grover, Oscar the Grouch and Cookie Monster. The brilliant puppeteer also had a prolific career as short film creator and commercial producer. Read on for seven fascinating facts about the creative genius.
1. Henson Had Help From This Longtime Collaborator
Frank Oz was Henson’s longtime collaborator, performing characters including Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Cookie Monster, Bert and Grover. He also directed several Henson productions, including “The Dark Crystal” and “The Muppets Take Manhattan.” On their longtime relationship, Oz had this to say about Henson: “Jim was extraordinary in that he would always allow me to voice my opinion. I think he should’ve fired me many times. He was extraordinarily patient. There was a closeness there that I can’t explain.”
2. Kermit Was Henson’s Alter Ego…But Wiser
Many people assumed Kermit the Frog was Henson’s alter ego. Henson somewhat agreed with the comparison, with a caveat: “I suppose that he’s an alter ego,” Henson said. ”But he’s a little snarkier than I am—slightly wise. Kermit says things I hold myself back from saying.”
3. ‘Fraggle Rock’ Was The First HBO Original Series
Henson’s ’80s classic, “Fraggle Rock,” was the first HBO original series. Yep. Before “The Wire” and “Game of Thrones,” there were these quirky inhabitants of an underground civilization. Another fun fact about the show? Reportedly, the series was supposed to teach children about world peace and international understanding. In a 1987 documentary, Henson said, “By seeing how the various groups in the world of ‘Fraggle Rock’ learn to deal with their differences, perhaps we can learn a bit about how to deal with ours.”
4. Henson Received An Oscar For Something Without Any Muppets
Although he was nominated and won a number of awards throughout his career, including Grammys and Emmys, perhaps his highest honor was being nominated for an Oscar in 1966 for his short film “Time Piece.” The film was a rare departure from puppetry. Featuring live actors, it explored time as a philosophical concept.
5. Henson Had Five Children Of His Own
The creator of characters beloved by children worldwide, Henson had five of his own children—John, Lisa, Cheryl, Brian and Heather. His children went on to hold prominent positions in their father’s company, with Brian acting as Chairman and Lisa as CEO.
6. Big Bird Performed At Jim Henson’s Funeral
Before his sudden death in 1990, Henson set out clear instructions for his memorial service. He didn’t want anyone to wear black and asked that a Dixieland jazz band end the service with “When the Saints Go Marching In.” His loved ones complied with his wishes and more. At the end of the service, Caroll Spinney performed “It’s Not Easy Being Green” as Big Bird.
7. Henson Wanted In On The Nightclub Biz
Henson’s ambitions and talents went beyond puppetry and film. He once dreamed of opening a dome-shaped nightclub called Cyclia. The sales brochures claimed that Cyclia would be “a sensational glimpse into the inner contents of our time—a vital, living, expanding experience that consumes its audience. It is total involvement, total communication … Cyclia is the entertainment experience of the future—theater of the year 2000.” Far out!
[h/t Mental Floss]