Jim Henson was one of the world’s best-loved entertainers, and his sudden and untimely end at the age of just 53 sent a shock wave through the entertainment and media industry. As the creator and director of the Muppets, he developed a global audience and shaped the childhoods of millions who grew up watching Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and the Muppet Show.
Henson’s inventive creations and use of distinctive puppet characters such as Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy found a broad appeal among children and adults. At its height, The Muppet Show was watched by weekly audiences of 235 million viewers across more than 100 countries, according to The New York Times. This incredible success was followed by a series of feature films, including The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), The Dark Crystal (1982), and Labyrinth (1986).
His death in 1990 following a viral infection cut short this prolific career, and his loss was felt keenly by his family, peers, and the global audience that had been brought up watching his characters come to life on screen.
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However, few people know that Henson also wrote two touching letters to be read after his death. Written in 1986, four years before he died, they reflect the positivity, good humor, and charm of the man who brought delight to multiple generations of fans.
The first letter is addressed directly to Henson’s five children, all of whom were aged between 19 and 30 at the time of his death. The site Letters of Note has published the complete text:
“First of all, don’t feel bad that I’m gone. While I will miss spending time with each of you, I’m sure it will be an interesting time for me and I look forward to seeing all of you when you come over. To each of you I send my love. If on this side of life I’m able to watch over and help you out, know that I will. If I can’t, I’m sure I can at least be waiting for you when you come over. This all may sound silly to you guys, but what the hell, I’m gone—and who can argue with me?
Life is meant to be fun, and joyous, and fulfilling. May each of yours be that—having each of you as a child of mine has certainly been one of the good things in my life. Know that I’ve always loved each of you with an eternal, bottomless love. A love that has nothing to do with each other, for I feel my love for each of you is total and all encompassing. Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.”
The second letter is addressed ‘to friends and family’, and contains Henson’s reflections on death and his wishes for his funeral.
“I’m not at all afraid of the thought of death and in many ways look forward to it with much curiosity and interest. I’m looking forward to meeting up with some of my friends who have gone on ahead of me and I will be waiting there to say hi to those of you who are still back there. I suggest you first have a nice, friendly little service of some kind. It would be lovely if some of the people who sing would do a song or two, some of which should be quite happy and joyful. It would be nice if some of my close friends would say a few nice, happy words about how much we enjoyed doing this stuff together. Incidentally, I’d love to have a Dixieland band play at this function and end with a rousing version of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’.
Have a wonderful time in life, everybody; it feels strange writing this kind of thing while I’m still alive, but it wouldn’t be easy to do after I go.”
Henson’s wishes were honored in two separate memorial services, held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York and St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, both of which featured hymns, Bible readings, a solo from Big Bird and a collective rendition of ‘Just One Person’ performed by the puppeteers and Muppet characters.
In addition, Henson’s son Brian read out extracts from the two letters that he had written in 1986. In particular, one phrase was repeated throughout both services and printed on the programs, and has become something of a mantra for Henson’s fans across the globe: “Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.”