Jim Henson passed away on this day, May 16, 1990. I was 12 years old, and I remember the moment I heard about it. It was in the evening, the sun was setting, and I was going out my front door to go play with my younger twin brothers in the yard. I was sad when I heard. I still went outside and played, but that’s beside the point. I also remember the precise spot on the planet on which I stood, when I first heard that James Maury Henson had left it. I bet you do too.
I’ve had many experiences that I feel brought me “close” to Jim. I’ve had the greatly undeserved (but deeply appreciated) good fortune to meet several people who new and worked with him, and who are even related to him. The closest I’ve ever personally felt to him was in July 2010, when Joe Hennes and I peeked into the mail slot of the empty townhouse at 117 E 69th St, in New York City, better known as the Henson Townhouse. It was dark and quiet. Everything inside it (and there wasn’t much) had settled down, and looked like it hadn’t been touched in years. Not like a Disney movie, where everything comes to life. The exact opposite. Everything used to come to life in there, and now it didn’t anymore. It looked like you were looking into the past life of a building. The staircase is what I most distinctly remember. Imagining the lights, the sounds of people, the bevy of activity, and creativity that took place there, displaced by 20 years at that time. Decades which left dust and emptiness, and vacant space for someone else to fill.
But Jim was there. He had been there. And I could feel it.
Everything Jim Henson ever created has made me happy. I can’t say that for anything or anyone else, ever. I can’t even say that of The Beatles or Walt Disney, and those are the only other people who would be in the running. Jim always makes me smile, except for today, this day every year, and that really isn’t his fault. We’re here, and then we’re gone, and there may or may not be a reason for either of those things, when they happen. Jim wanted to live a life so that, by the time it happened to him, it was a better place. Because he was here, it was. It is. And even writing this, I’m listening to Billy Joel sing “Just the Way You Are” to Oscar the Grouch, and that’s making me smile. So I guess I’m not that sad. I just want Jim to still be alive, to be here, and maybe that’s not quite the same as being sad. One of my favorite things Jim ever said was “It’s a good life, enjoy it.” His work makes that a whole lot easier.
I should watch the Muppets more often. Maybe everybody should.
Lots of people in our little community are writing things today. You should go read all of them. I’d tell you to stop reading mine and go read theirs, but I’m almost done now. Jim Henson’s legacy is his work, and since we still watch it and love it, and pass it onto our children, we play a part of that legacy too. It’s’ magic. Like Fraggles. Except that Fraggles aren’t real. But Jim made me believe they could be. Same with magic.
Jim Henson was one of the best people who ever lived, and one of the most wonderfully creative geniuses – with the determination to keep finding ways to give us the happiness of his gifts – who ever lived. He was tirelessly brilliant. There may be people who come from the past and the future who can do things like what Jim did, but they’ll never be Jim. We might see his “similar”, but we’ll never see his equal. There is vacant space here now, two and a half decades after he left us; it’s an emptiness left behind for someone else to step in and fill. And they’ll try to fill it. And they’ll do a pretty good job. But they won’t be Jim. And that’s okay.
Jim Henson was here.
And the world is a better place for it.