When a young Jane Nebel met classmate Jim Henson at the University of Maryland in the early 1950s, not only a romance was born — the two married in 1959 — but a phenomenon that would maintain a stronghold on pop culture forever: the Muppets. With husband Jim, Jane Henson helped to create the googly-eyed, perpetually smiling breed of small screen sensations, effectively sealing her fate as one of the most influential figures in children’s entertainment. Sadly, Jane is reported by Variety to have died on Tuesday in Conn., following a struggle with cancer. She was 78.
Long past her separation from Jim in ’86 and his death four years later, Jane strove to keep the spirit of the Muppets and everything the pair crafted within them alive. Queens, N.Y. native Jane brought her creative endeavors to Washington D.C.’s WCR-TV (where she and Jim appeared as college freshmen), the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Conn. (where she co-founded the National Puppetry Conference), and all across the nation, earning honors from a slew of organizations recognizing the importance of the art of puppetry. The Hensons’ legacy carries forth through the persistent popularity of the Muppets, who will find form in a new caper film, Muppets… Again!, in 2014.
Jane is survived by her and Jim’s five children: Lisa, Cheryl, Brian, John, and Heather.
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[Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images]