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Muppets Pioneer Jane Nebel Henson Dies at 78

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Jane Nebel Henson

Jane Nebel Henson (Photo: Courtesy of The Jim Henson Company)

She was there from the very beginning of Jim Henson's rise to fame, working first as his creative partner before becoming his wife.

Jane Nebel Henson died in her Connecticut home on Tuesday at the age of 78 following a lengthy battle with cancer.

Then Jane Nebel, she first met Jim Henson in a puppetry class at the University of Maryland in 1954. Still in school, Henson brought Nebel along with him as his co-performer and creator when he was hired at local NBC affiliate in Washington D.C., WRC-TV. "Sam and Friends" was the show, and it garnered a passionate fan base — leading to many memorable Muppets guest appearances on variety shows including "The Tonight Show" (then hosted by Steve Allen).

Jane worked closely with Jim devising the technical innovations on "Sam and Friends" and also co-ran the show when he took a year to travel in Europe.

A New York City native, Jane wed Jim in May 1959 and the couple had five children (all of whom have worked at the Jim Henson Company). Jane quit full-time muppeteering in the '60s to raise their children — when Jim hired Jerry Juhl and Frank Oz to replace her. Jane helped Oz learn how to lip sync and continued to perform non-speaking muppets on "Sesame Street" periodically through the eighties.

Jane and Jim separated in 1986, but remained close until his death in 1990. In 1992, Jane funded and founded The Jim Henson Legacy, to conserve, preserve and present Henson's artistic contributions. In 2001 she founded the Jane Henson Foundation to perpetuate her philanthropic work.

A tribute page celebrating Jane and featuring several images from her life has been created on the official Jim Henson Company website.

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