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Henson and Oz's friendship
After working together for so many years, every one of Henson's fellow Muppeteers eventually grew very close to him in no time at all. However, the man that it is quite clear Jim was always closest with was Frank Oz, causing an incredible partnership and friendship that they shared. There have been countless occasions where Henson's characters were partnered up Oz's characters. While it was actually Richard Hunt who voiced Statler to Jim Henson's Waldorf, (the famous hecklers from The Muppet Show), the friendship that Henson and Oz shared was the best in the whole Muppet business. At his Memorial Service, 5 short days after Jim's death, Frank speaks of a Christmas gift Jim gave him, which he called "Bert in Self-Contemplation". He starts to cry but manages to say "That's when I knew, he loved me & I loved him".
Death and legacy
In late 1989, Jim Henson made a radical change in his career. Wanting to become less of a businessman and focus more on the creative side of the production, he entered into talks with Michael Eisner to sell his company and characters (minus Sesame Street) to the Walt Disney Company. Two of his very last projects actually involved Walt Disney World in one way or another. On May 6th, 1990, The Muppets at Walt Disney World' premiered, as a special about the Muppets going to Kermit's home swamp and soon after, Walt Disney World. The other last project was Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3-D, a three-dimensional attraction currently located at Disney's Hollywood Studios. After Henson's sudden and untimely death, negotiations went awry, and Disney didn't acquire the Muppets till February 2004, which it now controls through the wholly owned subsidiary The Muppets Studio.
Jim became infected with a very rare bacterium called Group A streptococcus in May 1990 that was discovered too late for him to receive proper treatment. He died at 1:21 a.m. on Wednesday, May 16th, 1990, approximately 20 hours & 23 minutes after checking himself into the emergency room at New York Hospital, not realizing how sick he really was. Steve Whitmire then took over for Kermit the Frog, only months after Jim passed away, then he took over for Ernie in 1993 to Frank Oz's Bert on Sesame Street. Waldorf, in 1992, had been taken over by Dave Goelz. Starting in 1991 the role of Dr. Teeth had been officially taken over by John Kennedy, however, the character only had made brief appearances with very little dialogue. However, following his death, Rowlf the Dog was kept completely silent until episode 2 of Muppets Tonight, on which Rowlf broke his silence thanks to the vocal help of Bill Barretta, who now voices the Swedish Chef, Mahna Mahna and Dr. Teeth, as of 2005.
According to FindAGrave.com, Henson was cremated, & his ashes were scattered at his ranch outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Jim Henson's legacy is carried on in different forms today. Sesame Workshop (formerly the Children's Television Workshop) owns all the Sesame Street characters and continues to experiment with its format. However, in 2001, they lost the rights to Kermit, as he was mainly part of the Muppets. As noted, the Walt Disney Company owns the Muppet characters & continues to use them in new productions. Fortunately, the Jim Henson Company itself, under the guidance of Henson's children Brian, Lisa, & Cheryl, John, & Heather, continues to release new material, including Creature Shop films and original content.
In 2011, Jim Henson was posthumously awarded the Disney Legends award at the D23 Expo in 2011. His oldest son and daughter, Brian and Lisa, accepted it on his behalf.
- Henson's primary Muppet characters: Kermit the Frog (1955 - 1990), Rowlf the Dog (1962 - 1990), Ernie (1969 - 1990), Guy Smiley (1969 - 1990), Dr. Teeth (1975 - 1990), Waldorf (1975 - 1990), The Swedish Chef (1976 - 1990), The Newsman (1976 - 1990), Link Hogthrob (1977 - 1990), Mahna Mahna (1969 - 1976), Zeke (1977 - 1978, 1983), Nigel (1975 - 1976)
- The Muppet Show characters: Balloon-Head Conductor, Beaver (217), Black Rooster (303), Blue Frackle (203), Brown Bear, 1 of the Bun-Bun Brother, Butch (416), Dancers, Doglion (224), Droop (115), Dr. Teeth (1975 - 1990), The Eel (124), Flower-Eating Monster, Fazoob, Frogs (puppetry), Fuzz Brother, Gills Brother, Green Heap, Green Frackle (occasionally in season 1), Hillbilly Singer, Jim, Kermit the Frog (1955 - 1990), Kermit the Protozoa, Lenny the Lizard (204), Link Hogthrob (1977 - 1990), Lefty, Mahna Mahna (1969 - 1976), Mary Louise (121), Mean Mama (203), Miss Kitty (113), 1 of the Muppaphone, The Newsman (1976 - 1990), The Newspig, Nigel (1965 - 1976), Penguins (423), Pigs, Prairie Dogs, Robot Kermit, Rover Joe (occasional), Rowlf the Dog (1962 - 1990), The Scientist, Silver Beak, Slim Wilson (413), The Swedish Chef (1976 - 1990), Timmy Monster (occasionally), Waldorf (1975 - 1990), Wally, Wally Whoopie, Whatnots, Zeke (1977 - 1978, 1983)
- Tales from Muppetland: King Goshposh, King Rupert the Second, Mean Floyd
- Muppet Meeting Films: Leo, Kermit the Frog (1975 appearance) (1955 - 1990)
- The Muppet Show: Sex & Violence: George Washington, Hudson, Nigel (1975 - 1976), Dr. Teeth (1975 - 1990), Kermit the Frog (1955 - 1990)
- The Muppet Movie: Kermit the Frog (1955 - 1990), Dr. Teeth (1975 - 1990), Rowlf the Dog (1962 - 1990), Waldorf (1975 - 1990), the Swedish Chef (1976 - 1990) and the Newsman (1976 - 1990)
- The Great Muppet Caper: Kermit the Frog (1955 - 1990), Dr. Teeth (1975 - 1990), Rowlf the Dog (1962 - 1990), Waldorf (1975 - 1990), the Swedish Chef (1976 - 1990) and the Newsman (1976 - 1990)
- A Muppet Family Christmas: Kermit the Frog (1955 - 1990), Ernie (1969 - 1990), Dr. Teeth (1975 - 1990), Rowlf the Dog (1962 - 1990), Waldorf (1975 - 1990), the Swedish Chef (1976 - 1990), the Newsman (1976 - 1990), Guy Smiley (1969 - 1990), and a penguin
- The Muppets at Walt Disney World: Kermit the Frog (1955 - 1990), Dr. Teeth (1975 - 1990), Rowlf the Dog (1962 - 1990), Waldorf (1975 - 1990), the Swedish Chef (1976 - 1990) and Link Hogthrob (1977 - 1990)