Tribute to Jim Henson

I’m not one who normally celebrates someone’s birthday after they’ve died, but with the new Muppets movie coming out soon, it seems like the perfect time to fully celebrate Jim.  I’m not going to type a bunch of facts about the man.  For that you can check out his Wikipedia page, or his IMDB page.  Instead, I’ll talk about how he influenced a young girl from Michigan . . .

I was born in 1970, less than a year after the first episode of Sesame Street aired, and it was one of the fun, educational shows that I enjoyed in my youth.   Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was always good for a trip on the Trolley to the land of Make-Believe, and The Electric Company was awesome for its grooviness and for introducing us to the amazing Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader, but Sesame Street was my favorite.  I can watch the old clips today and still enjoy them  as much as I did when I first saw them.

Like most kids, I loved the wonderfully colorful characters – bothMuppet and human – and can still attribute many things I learned to Jim’s Muppets and how they learned things.  I learned my first Spanish words from Maria and Luiz on Sesame Street, and even sign language, thanks to Bob and Linda.  I know all about relational words, because of Grover, and who in my generation can forget Cookie Monster telling us what the letter “C” means to him?

But it wasn’t just educational learning that I got from the Street, I was also introduced to vast amounts of culture.  My first taste of Carmen was thanks to this show, as was funk.  The diverse group of people taught me to be accepting of other people’s cultures, and even showed how so many different backgrounds could all get along, while still retaining their individuality.  And, I don’t know if Jim specifically intended for Bert and Ernie to be TVs first gay couple (and maybe they really are just roommates), but if so, he made it seem so natural that it never fazed me when I met my first real gay couple.  I just accepted them as part of the neighborhood.

I still crack up at the humor Jim always injected into his skits.  I don’t think there’s a single person in my generation who doesn’t know Manamana, and I loved two very memorable ways he gave to remember the alphabet: I still sing this one, on occasion, while this one still makes me giggle.

When Jim started up The Muppet Show, I was an instant fan.  Here was another  motley crew of characters who found a way to function together.  Even when there was anger between them, we saw issues resolved.  Sometimes it was done in a healthy way, while at others, the anger and humor took over.  Yes, there were archetypes among the gang, but even the archetypes were shown to be multi-faceted creatures.  Even more culture was introduced to me in the varying musical acts, from Alice Cooper to Beethoven, and wonderful guest stars, all woven together with large dollops of zaniness and comedy.

With the foray into movies, he was able to let his characters dreams come to fruition.  It clearly took a lot of guts for Kermit and his gang to travel all along the winding path they did until they finally got to Hollywood.  When the Muppets stood in front of Lew Lord and simply asked to be rich and famous, I held my breath right along with them and jumped for joy when their dreams came true.  Jim always encouraged being true to yourself, following your dreams and loving yourself just the way you are.

It was a sad day for me when Jim died.  I was working at Walt Disney World, and they had just reached an agreement with him to bring The Muppets to Disney.  When news hit that he’d passed, the WD Eye (the magazine for Disney’s Imagineers) included this sketch.  The Orlando Sentinel ran something similar that week.  I cried when I saw it, and the memory of it still brings tears to my eyes.

I never got a chance to meet Jim, though I did meet Bob from Sesame Street (I’ll blog about that day later).  But even though I never met him, I feel like he was as just as important in my upbringing as my parents.  Jim taught me that learning could be fun, and that it’s good to maintain my individuality.  Because, even though it might not be easy to be “green”, it’s still what I want to be.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kaye George
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 09:15:56

    Yes, the man was a genius. He died much, much too young. Thanks for that picture with Mickey.

    Reply

    • Alyx Morgan
      Sep 23, 2011 @ 21:17:14

      You’re welcome, Kaye. I tried to find the one that the Sentinel ran as well, but couldn’t. Imagine Mickey in the middle of an otherwise blank page, with his head hung in sorrow, & Jim’s life span information at the bottom right corner. River of tears!

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply

  2. Dolly Chamberlin
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 10:15:11

    Most inspirational! YAY & Happy Birthday Jim!! Sesame Street sure helped my parenting skills. The kids never realized how much they were learning. I too, learned as much as I laughed with his shows. I’m glad it had such a positive effect, and to see they are still valued today. LOVES ;}

    Reply

    • Alyx Morgan
      Sep 23, 2011 @ 21:19:12

      That was probably part of why I enjoyed I enjoyed it so much, mom…because you sat & watched them with us.

      Thanks for doing that, & for reading today. 🙂

      Reply

  3. Michele
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 17:41:30

    My dad went to school with him…I believe it was high school or could have been college…they used to make fun of him because he played with puppets…guess he showed them huh?

    Reply

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