On the grounds of the University of Maryland at College Park, there is a special spot dedicated to the person I would consider the most famous alumnus to ever walk the grounds of my alma mater:
There are certain key architects to the craziness known as LobaBlanca, and Jim Henson is most assuredly one of them. His was a creative genius that I think remains unparalleled even more than 20 years after his death (20 years? Dear prophets, has it really been that long?!) He was the eternal child, never afraid to let loose his exquisite imagination and deliver to us a cavalcade of whimsy and mischief, all in that trademark Muppet form. I’ve adored Kermit and his crew since I was a wee pup and can’t really imagine a life spent without knowing the joys of Henson’s magic. To this day, I can’t help but smile like a fool when I hear this theme:
Every single memory evoked by The Muppet Show theme is a happy one…Miss Piggy and her Kermie, Statler and Waldorf, Gonzo and his chicken fetish, Pigs…In…Space!!, wacka-wacka-wacka, meep, meep!!, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, the Swedish Chef, manamanah! Manamanah?
Plus, there were the Fraggles, the neighbors of Sesame Street, naughty Saturday Night Live sketches from the show’s earliest years, Jedi Master Yoda (voiced by Miss Piggy himself, Frank Oz), The Dark Crystal…and Labyrinth. This remains one of my favorite movies. It introduced me to Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie…and David Bowie’s magnificent package. Seriously, only Henson could have gotten away with having someone dressed like Jareth the Goblin King in a children’s movie…and only David Bowie could have pulled it off.
Also…wait for the Trek reference in 3…2…1…She Who Would Be Gates was the choreographer for Labyrinth and several other Henson movies. Even before I knew who she was, she was playing an integral role in my life. Oh, sweet serendipity, how I adore thee.
Henson was one of those rare souls who never seemed at a loss for creativity, and his untimely death was one of the first from the celebrity world to impact me on a personal level. How could I not mourn the death of a man who had brought so much joy to my childhood and who showed me that there should never be a point in anyone’s life when they are “too old” for silliness such as this.
Even his funeral was uncommon, with friends and colleagues expressing their love and joy at having once had “just one person” in their lives as wonderful as Henson through song and Muppetry and Dixieland jazz. Henson didn’t want a mournful service and, even though you knew all their hearts were breaking, his friends gave him the magical send-off he requested…and deserved. There are still clips of his memorial service online at YouTube, but I thought I’d post this one:
What you don’t see in this clip, unfortunately, is that there were Muppeteers scattered throughout the congregation who stood up with their Muppets to sing along with this song as it continued. Besides being beautiful for bringing together so many of Henson’s creations in a celebration of his life, this moment from his memorial service served as the inspiration for this scene from Love Actually:
See? All you need is love. And Muppets. And David Bowie’s package.