Jane Nebel Henson, who partnered with her husband Jim Henson to launch the Muppets and worked to preserve his artistic legacy, died April 2 of cancer in Conn. She was 78.
Born in Queens, N.Y., she met Jim Henson in a puppetry class at the U. of Maryland, and began working with him as a performer, puppet designer and builder when they were offered a spot on WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. while they were still undergraduates.
The Muppets made their first appearance on their show “Sam and Friends,” which aired before the “Huntley-Brinkley Report” and “The Tonight Show” with Steve Allen, where their signature puppets made their first national guest appearance.
They were married in 1959, and Jane gave birth to Lisa, Cheryl, Brian and John in the next five years and Heather in 1970.
As the Jim Henson Company grew, she actively participated in the organization, collaborating with her husband on projects including “The Art of the Muppets” traveling museum exhibit and “The Muppet Show on Tour” and “Sesame Street Live” stage shows.
She also was said to have had a keen eye for spotting puppeteer talent. She served on the board of the Jim Henson Foundation, which promotes the art of puppetry. In 1992, she founded the Jim Henson Legacy to preserve his artistic contributions, and in 2001, she created the Jane Henson Foundation to continue her philanthropic work.
Henson also co-founded the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and received honors from organizations including the Union Internationale de la Marionette, Puppetry Guild of Greater New York, the U. of Maryland Alumni Assn., the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Ga, the Paley Center and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.