Over the past five years, I had the great privilege of getting to know Jane Henson — at least a little. She was brassy, brilliant, outspoken, and opinionated — and, frankly, the first time I met her, she intimidated the hell out of me. But the more I got to know her, the more I came to find that she was also incredibly warm and sweet, and completely and utterly devoted to her family and friends. She was also just as funny as you might imagine, edgy with a slight whiff of mischief. (And yeah, she was a terrific puppeteer, too — there’s a reason young Jim Henson asked her to be his first performing partner back in 1954: Jim knew sheer talent when he saw it.)
For the five years I knew her, Jane was fighting cancer. And yet, she was always generous with her time, giving me several hours (on several occasions!) in New York, and a few more when she happened to be in Washington, DC. I never called our sessions together “interviews”; instead, I called them conversations — because I think that’s how we both came to regard them. There were times I was worried I might be tiring her out — one session ran nearly five hours — but Jane seemed to have a nearly endless enthusiasm; the one time I suggested that we start wrapping things up because she might be tired, she simply looked at her watch, raised an eyebrow at me, and shrugged, “If you say so.”
Yeah, I came to adore her.
The last time I saw her was late summer 2012. She was a bit tired, but still as punchy as ever and we talked for several hours in the conference room of the Jim Henson Legacy, an organization she founded in 1993 to preserve and perpetuate Jim’s life and work. When I got up to leave that afternoon, I took her right hand in mine and shook it. “Thank you for sharing Jim with me,” I told her, “and thanks for sharing you.” She patted the back of my hand warmly with her left hand and smiled.
Jane Henson died Tuesday morning at the age of 78. And I’ll miss her.