[[caption-width-right:302:How come when ''he'' makes up imaginary friends it's cool, but when ''I'' do it...]]

->''"When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there."''

James Maury "Jim" Henson (September 24, 1936 -- May 16, 1990) was one of the great puppeteers in history, and used that art to reach heights of popular success and artistic acclaim undreamed of by anyone before or since.

In 1955, WRC-TV 4, a UsefulNotes/WashingtonDC television station owned by Creator/{{NBC}}, began airing a short five minute puppet show named ''Series/SamAndFriends''. In addition to the manic title character and a skull-like omnivorous creature named Yorick, it featured a lizard like creature made from an old green sweater and a pair of ping pong balls named Kermit. This was the humble beginning for Kermit, who would eventually be refined in his design into a frog with a collar.

Kermit, Sam and the other primitive creations of this show were the first [[Franchise/TheMuppets Muppets]], and ''Sam and Friends'', as well as the concurrently produced commercials for Wilkins coffee, both proved to be smash local hits, which set a new standard for puppetry. Henson's techniques of setting the camera's point of view right at puppet level rather than using a traditional puppet show stage, and using a TV monitor so a puppeteer could see his own performance, were the first in a series of innovations he and the team of talented men and women who came to work for him made in the field. Even then, Henson initially considered puppets simply as a means of getting on TV with dreams of moving on to other TV careers like art direction. However, a vacation in Europe exposed him to a whole new world of puppetry as a deeply respected artform and Henson realized he found his calling after all.

When ''Sam and Friends'' ended, Henson moved on to producing commercials for national advertising campaigns. Meanwhile, The Muppets became popular features on variety shows, once even taking over ''Series/TheEdSullivanShow'' for a Christmas special, as well as Jim's character Rowlf the Dog being a regular on the ''Jimmy Dean Show''. Henson even experimented with non-puppet films such as the surreal short, ''Film/TimePiece'' which was nominated for a Live Action Short Oscar. However, it wasn't until Joan Ganz Cooney and a show [[Series/SesameStreet brought to you by the letters]] [[Creator/{{PBS}} "P", "B" and "S"]] came into the picture that the Muppets would become an institution.

''Series/SesameStreet'' launched [[LoadsAndLoadsOfCharacters dozens of characters]] who are now a part of the worldwide consciousness, including Jim's own characters Ernie and Guy Smiley. The program would also solidify the core performers he'd work with for years to come. Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Caroll Spinney, Fran Brill, and later David Goelz, Steve Whitmire and Kevin Clash all performed characters too numerous to mention here that are just as memorable as Henson's own. In fact, Henson and Oz, whether performing Bert and Ernie, or Kermit and Fozzie Bear, or Kermit and Miss Piggy, or the Swedish Chef (Henson did the voice and Oz did the hands) rank as one of the most prolific comedy duos in television history, and barely ever appeared on screen as themselves. Unfortunately, the success of ''Sesame Street'' caused a lot of people to see the Muppets as strictly "kid's stuff," a notion that Henson worked to dispel (with varying degrees of success) for the rest of his life.

In the mid-1970s, after both a season performing new characters on ''Series/SaturdayNightLive'' and a couple specials that would serve as pilots, ''Series/TheMuppetShow'' launched in first run syndication in the US, and on Creator/{{ITV}} in the UK, having been bankrolled by British entertainment legend Lord Lew Grade (who had previously bankrolled another puppeteer, Creator/GerryAnderson). Like the early variety show appearances, the Muppets used {{Slapstick}} so over the top it's a wonder MoralGuardians of the time didn't have a heart attack from all the explosions, Muppets eating smaller Muppets, and general mayhem surrounding the Muppet Theatre. Henson, in addition to Kermit and Rowlf, performed characters ranging from trippy keyboardist Dr. Teeth to the masculine and very dense Link Hogthrob. He also performed Waldorf to Richard Hunt's Statler, giving the theatre its [[JustForFun/StatlerAndWaldorf heckling, cackling and long suffering]] GreekChorus.

A couple years later, Henson took a major gamble, bringing his characters to the movie theatres with the aptly named ''Film/TheMuppetMovie''. Much like Creator/WaltDisney with ''Disney/SnowWhiteAndTheSevenDwarfs'', Jim knew he had to top anything his team had put out to that date. Complex sequences, ranging from Kermit riding a bicycle to the Electric Mayhem rocking an old church to its rafters, made the Muppets believable in a more or less undiluted real world setting. The movie was a critical and commercial success, paving the way for ''Film/TheGreatMuppetCaper'' and ''Film/TheMuppetsTakeManhattan''.

Later Henson-helmed projects were met with more sporadic success. ''Series/FraggleRock'' was one of the earlier successes in its initial run on {{Creator/HBO}}. While the show was produced by him, neither Henson nor Frank Oz took on regular recurring roles in it, instead opting for Jerry Nelson, Steve Whitmire and others to take the lead. Two big-screen efforts into non-Muppet fantasy arrived in TheEighties -- ''Film/TheDarkCrystal'' was a minor success, but its spiritual successor ''Film/{{Labyrinth}}'' was mostly considered a disappointment in terms of its financial record. (Both films went on to be VindicatedByCable.) ''Series/TheJimHensonHour'', which would feature segments from another series, ''Series/TheStoryteller'', only lasted for about half a season.

In the meantime, Creator/JimHensonsCreatureShop had become a major font for further advancing puppetry. Building on full body characters like the Gorgs from ''Fraggle Rock'', the Creature Shop was responsible for the title characters of [[Film/TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles1990 the 1990 movie version]] of ''Franchise/TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles'', and its first sequel ''Film/TeenageMutantNinjaTurtlesIITheSecretOfTheOoze''. As well, the Shop also did forays into CG animation, namely Waldo, a gusty experimentation of a manually-controlled virtual 3D character who appeared in both ''Series/TheJimHensonHour'' and ''Ride/MuppetVision3D'' which runs at Ride/DisneyThemeParks to this day.

Jim Henson died suddenly of toxic shock syndrome following a severe strep throat infection on May 16, 1990.[[note]]The same day as Creator/SammyDavisJr[[/note]] At the time, he was negotiating with Creator/{{Disney}} to turn over the rights to his characters so that he could focus on production and performing, and did not wish to visit the hospital (his wife would later state that the refusal was likely due to his desire not to be a bother to people). He was only 53 years old. In a sense, this was the EndOfAnAge for the Muppets.

While ''Sesame Street'' still runs strongly, as it was not affected by the sales and resales of The Jim Henson Company and its properties that persisted into the TurnOfTheMillennium, the ''Muppet Show'' cast had a spottier record via all the turmoil. ''Series/MuppetsTonight'', which set to update the concept of ''The Muppet Show'' for the 1990s by introducing new characters, a new host, a new setting, and new skits, only lasted for two seasons before falling into obscurity. New film productions were largely overlooked. Other productions by the Jim Henson Company and its performers, ranging from ''Series/{{Dinosaurs}}'' and ''Series/{{Farscape}}'' to ''Series/BearInTheBigBlueHouse'' and ''WesternAnimation/DogCity'', more successfully continued Henson's legacy with new characters for new generations of fans.

Disney has owned ''The Muppet Show'' and its characters since 2004. [[Film/TheMuppets The 2011 Muppet film]] set out to keep the original cast of ''The Muppet Show'' fresh without changing them as characters, and proved successful enough to warrant [[Film/MuppetsMostWanted a sequel]] in 2014. (A few photos of Jim Henson are visible in the film, including [[TearJerker a large one of him and Kermit in Kermit's office.]]) Otherwise, the "classic" Muppets have been making fewer and shorter appearances in other mediums, such as a Website/YouTube channel of original skits. The Jim Henson Company in New York City produces mainly CG series, internet material, and the puppets for ''Sesame Street'', the representative characters now owned by Sesame Workshop. And then in 2015, [[Series/TheMuppets they came back to TV once again.]]

[[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSE1Mtnnm4Y&feature=related His funeral was pretty awesome]]. The downside was that it was never televised.

Also well worth checking out is Brian Jay Jones' biography of him, the result of unprecedented access to Henson's family and co-workers.
!!Tropes Related to Jim Henson Include:
* AuthorAvatar:
** Those who knew him say that Jim was a lot like Rowlf the Dog -- except he wasn't as good a pianist.
** Of course, there was also Kermit -- the sanest member and leader of a group of crazy performers. Though unlike Kermit, Henson was far less likely to complain or criticize -- apparently only saying "Hmm" if he disliked something. The harshest language he was ever heard uttering was an emphatic and heartfelt "Oh, for ''heaven's'' sake!"
--->"He can say things I hold back."
** And then there's Ernie and Bert, which were basically this for both Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Many have said that Ernie and Bert are very much like Jim and Frank, in that Jim had a little bit of a mischievous streak, and especially loved to pester Frank, meanwhile Frank was rather uptight. Jim also confessed that he and Frank were so comfortable with Ernie and Bert, that most of the time, they would ad-lib many of the Ernie and Bert inserts -- keeping the original educational goal and specific gag of the bit in mind, but forgoing the rest of the script otherwise. [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01VYKfOZA4o One insert in particular]], featuring Bert showing off his new aquarium of goldfish to Ernie, was ''completely'' improvised by Jim and Frank from start to finish.
* DarkerAndEdgier: While ''Film/TheMuppetChristmasCarol'' did have some dark moments, ''Film/{{Labyrinth}}'' and ''Film/TheDarkCrystal'' are by far the darkest films involving puppets he's done, the former for SurrealHorror and the latter for a rather alien and cruel world.
* GreenAesop: He loved these, and they can be found all throughout his career. In fact, the very last ''Series/SesameStreet'' skit he performed before his death [[http://www.sesamestreet.org/videos#media/video_4493a236-2579-4f23-9f71-8ed08181dcb0 has such a message.]]
* HypocriticalHumor: The "Wilkins and Wontkins" commercials, in which Wontkins is brutally punished for saying he doesn't like Wilkins coffee, or has just never tried it, get even funnier when you find out Henson himself hated the taste of coffee and only ever drank it to be polite.
* {{Improv}}: Henson embodied his characters so fully that he could make up scenes with them entirely off-the-cuff, a particularly heartwarming example being [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYIRO97dhII this bit]] on ''Series/SesameStreet'' when a little girl spontaneously attempted to take the ABC song OffTheRails by [[CountingToPotato counting to Cookie Monster]]. Kermit's reaction, and the girl's, are totally unscripted and genuine. You can even hear him almost crack up while saying "You're just teasing me."
* IncrediblyLamePun: He loved these.
** When he was announcing the winner for Best Animated Short in his first appearance as himself at the UsefulNotes/{{Academy Award}}s, he began to read in Kermit's voice, "So, the winner is...", cleared his throat, and said, "Had a frog in my throat, there" then immediately apologized and claimed, "I haven't used that line before!"
** As Kermit on ''Series/SesameStreet'', he mentioned the joke about having a man in his throat. (He didn't actually do the joke.)
* InsistentTerminology: Jim actually hated the word "Muppeteer" feeling that it sounded and felt too gimmicky, which is why he and his colleagues were always billed as "Muppet Performers" and never "Muppeteers". When Apple Computers printed out a list of well-known clients who used their products, Jim found his name on the list, saw his occupation listed as "Muppeteer", scratched it out, and scribbled above it "Muppet Performer".
* ItWillNeverCatchOn:
** He and the rest of the crew got a lot of this when ''Series/TheMuppetShow'' was being shopped around and when it first premiered. It happened again before ''Film/TheMuppetMovie'' was released.
** Henson himself took two decades of trying to get other kinds of work going before he finally accepted that the Muppets were what he would be known for.
* NiceGuy: Jim was a pretty easygoing and nice guy in real life. It has been said that Rowlf the Dog was very much like what Jim really was.
* PrecisionFStrike: A milder example is a presentation he taped to pitch ''Series/TheMuppetShow'' to networks; the pitch was a brief showcase of the typical kind of mayhem the Muppets are known for, and when all is over with, Kermit enters frame, [[NoFourthWall looks to the camera]], and asks, "What the hell was ''that?!''"
* RefugeInAudacity: His first idea for ''The Muppet Show'''s title: "Sex and Violence." And yes, he did actually pitch it under that name, and even aired a special with it.
* SlidingScaleOfIdealismVersusCynicism: Smack in the middle. Henson's work was almost always a source of joy, optimism and good old-fashioned entertainment, yet always had noticeable undertones of somberness. As mentioned under "RealitySubtext," this optimistic realism stemmed from seeing his brother die in a motorcycle accident when he was young.
* SomethingCompletelyDifferent: ''Film/TheDarkCrystal'', ''Film/{{Labyrinth}}'' and ''Film/MirrorMask'' are DarkerAndEdgier than the Jim Henson Company's other productions.
* TropeMaker: Henson was responsible for several leaps in the art of puppetry which changed the art forever, such as the obvious combination of the hand puppet and the rod puppet, the use of raised platform sets (which gave much more freedom for the puppeteers to go wild), to the use of radio-controlled animatronics. All of these and more paved the way for new puppeteers.
* UniversalAdaptorCast: [[WordOfGod Jim has said]] that he never really thought of the Muppet characters as characters, but rather, a troupe of actors that just happen to be puppets. This is especially true when you consider the Muppets have essentially done their own remakes of ''Literature/AChristmasCarol'', ''Literature/TreasureIsland'', ''Film/ItsAWonderfulLife'', various different fairy tales, among other stories in which they play the characters themselves.
** When AliceCooper hosted the show, he said by the end of the week he stopped talking to the Muppet performers and spoke directly to the Muppets, and all the performers were so great at improv that they never broke character. Forget MarlonBrando, the Muppet crew are kings of method acting.
* WorldBuilding:
** Both of his theatrical releases that stepped away from the Muppets had their own in-depth settings. These unique worlds were a combination of the genius of Henson and artist Creator/BrianFroud.
** Also, [[Series/FraggleRock Fraggle Rock]]'s complex ecosystem and magical underground world.