Jane Henson

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Jane Henson
Born Jane Ann Nebel
(1934-06-16)June 16, 1934
St. Albans, Queens, New York
Died April 2, 2013(2013-04-02) (aged 78)
Greenwich, Connecticut
Cause of death Cancer
Resting place Cremation
Alma mater University of Maryland, College Park
Occupation Puppeteer
Board member of Jim Henson Foundation,
The Jim Henson Legacy,
American Center for Children's Television
Spouse(s) Jim Henson
(m.1959–1990; his death)
Children Lisa Henson (born 1960)
Cheryl Henson (born 1961)
Brian Henson (born 1963)
John Henson (1965–2014)[1]
Heather Henson (born 1970)

Jane Henson (née Nebel; June 16, 1934 –April 2, 2013) was an American puppeteer and the wife (later widow) of puppeteer Jim Henson.

Early life[edit]

Born Jane Ann Nebel and raised in St. Albans, Queens, she met Henson when she was a sophomore and he a freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park.[2]


Jane Nebel and Jim Henson worked together on the live 1950s television show Sam and Friends, where Jane collaborated with Jim in performing Muppets and devising several of the show's technical innovations, including the use of television monitors to watch their performances in real time.[2] When, in the late 1950s, Jim took a year off from Sam and Friends to travel in Europe, Jane ran the show, with the help of a UMD classmate.[3]

"Among the first of his assignments at WRC was Afternoon, a magazine show aimed at housewives. This marked his first collaboration with Jane Nebel – the woman who later became his wife"[4] They did not begin dating until Jim returned from Europe where he traveled for several months, to be inspired by European puppeteers who look on their work as an art form.[2] They were married in 1959 and had five children.

Their first child, Lisa, was born the next year, followed by four others: Cheryl (born 1961), Brian (born 1962), John (1965-2014) and Heather (born 1970). When she quit full-time puppeteering in the early 1960s to raise their children, Jim hired Jerry Juhl and Frank Oz to replace her.[5] She helped the newly hired Frank Oz learn how to lip sync,[5] and continued to perform non-speaking muppets on Sesame Street from time to time through at least the eighties.[2] She was also responsible for the hiring of puppeteer Steve Whitmire (who would later take over performing Kermit the Frog and Ernie of “Sesame Street” after the death of Jim Henson in 1990) in 1978, after he gave her an impromptu audition in an Atlanta, Georgia airport restaurant.[6]

Towards the end of her life Henson conceived the idea of a stylized puppet show based on the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus. Together with a small group of collaborators, she created a live theatre piece featuring tabletop manger figure puppets built by the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Jane Henson's "Nativity Story" premiered at the 2010 Orlando Puppet Festival. After Henson's death in 2013, vignettes from the stage show were used in the CBS television special "A New York Christmas to Remember", narrated by Regis Philbin. A tribute to Henson from family and friends was part of the national broadcast.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Jane and Jim Henson separated in 1986 although they remained close until his death in 1990.[8] In 1992, she established The Jim Henson Legacy to preserve and perpetuate the work of her husband. She served on the boards of the Jim Henson Foundation and the American Center for Children's Television.[9]

Illness and death[edit]

On March 20, 2013, her daughter Cheryl revealed that her mother had cancer and was paralyzed; she asked fans to keep Jane in their prayers. Jane Henson died on April 2, 2013, from cancer at the family home in Greenwich, Connecticut. She was 78.[10][11]


Jane Henson was survived by her five children and eight grandchildren.


  1. ^ "It is with great sadness that we confirm... - The Jim Henson Company". Facebook. Retrieved 2014-04-23. 
  2. ^ a b c d "The Man Behind the Frog". Time. 1978-12-25. Retrieved 2007-05-01. 
  3. ^ Harris, Judy (1998-09-21). "Muppet Master: An Interview with Jim Henson". Muppet Central. Retrieved 2007-05-05. 
  4. ^ Finch, Jim Henson – The Works (1993). p. 15.
  5. ^ a b Plume, Kenneth. "Interview with Frank Oz", IGN FilmForce, 2000-02-10. Retrieved on 2007-05-06.
  6. ^ Plume, Kenneth (1999-07-19). "Ratting Out: An Interview with Muppeteer Steve Whitmire". Muppet Central. Retrieved 2007-05-05. 
  7. ^ "Jane Henson Nativity Story Airs Christmas Eve on CBS Featuring Orlando Talent". Orlando Weekly. 2013-12-23. Retrieved 2015-09-17. 
  8. ^ Collins, James (1998-06-08). "Time 100: Jim Henson". Time. Retrieved 2007-05-01. 
  9. ^ Muppet Co-Founder Jane Henson to Speak at WVU, WVU News.
  10. ^ "Jane Henson, Muppets Co-Creator And Widow Of Jim Henson, Dies At 78". USA Today. Retrieved April 2, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Jane Henson, Who Helped Create Muppets With Husband Jim, Dies at 78". Variety. 2 April 2013. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 

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