On May 16, 1990, the world lost a creative giant and generous soul. For decades, Jim Henson invited generations of kids and adults alike into his whimsical television playgrounds. Fantastical films like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth taught us to believe in ourselves against all odds. Though we didn’t know this fatherly sage of felt fabric personally, it sure seemed as though we did.
On the 30th anniversary of Henson’s passing, there are a few people who did know the Muppets creator intimately who want to tell you more about him. Veteran Muppets performers Frank Oz (Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy), Fran Brill (Prairie Dawn, Zoe), Dave Goelz (the Great Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew), and Bill Barretta (Pépe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama) will pay tribute to Henson during a livestream event this Saturday, May 16.
“The date seemed like a wonderful point to tie things to, and a way to honor Jim,” says executive producer and Oz’s wife, Victoria Labalme. It was also a no-brainer to make the event free. “Jim represented the oneness of everyone,” Labalme adds. “This was an opportunity to reach as many people as possible and lift their sprits, so we wanted it to have no barrier to entry.”
Though the event is free, Oz and Labalme are making it possible to donate to front-line, non-medical workers through the Elmhurst Hospital Center Auxiliary, in hard hit New York City.
“These are people who are security guards, they’re the people who do the laundry, all those people that are ‘invisible’,” says Oz. “I just want some attention brought to them, and so that’s the intent of this.” As of mid-April, three non-medical workers at Queens’s Elmhurst Hospital had died due to the pandemic. Oz says he feels badly that he doesn’t have the ability to broaden efforts to support non-medical workers worldwide, but hopes people will understand that Elmhurst Hospital is emblematic of the hardships facing hospitals everywhere.
This isn’t the first time the group has gotten together to discuss Henson and the Muppets. In 2018, Oz released Muppet Guys Talking, a documentary in which the aforementioned performers, along with the late Jerry Nelson (Count von Count, Snuffleupagus), lounged around a New York City loft riffing about performing the Muppets. However, Oz shot ten hours of footage for Muppet Guys Talking, and says that there are many more stories to tell about Henson.
“I’m going to find out things about Jim that I didn’t know, I betcha,” Oz presumes.
As we deal with the harsh reality of COVID-19, artists of various mediums have released new material, almost on a daily basis, to help lift people’s spirits. It’s worth wondering, “Would Jim Henson be creating something during this time, and what might that be?”
“I don’t know what it would be. I do know that he would absolutely do something,” says Oz. “He would jump in the fray and we would follow him.” Oz adds that Henson’s passing occurred just on the verge of major advancements in computer technology. “He was having fun already. If he was here now, there’s no question he would use Zoom or something else. He would create something worldwide with the people he knew,” says Oz.
Oz sums it up by imagining a world without the Muppets, a prospect that scares the bejesus out of him.
“I don’t really know of an entity, or characters, that really brings people together [like the Muppets], especially people who feel disenfranchised. Knowing that [the Muppets] are very special, and we can bring [everybody] in, we can’t not do this.”
The free conversation will stream live this Saturday, May 16, at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT. Register here. If you can’t make it to the live event, a replay will be available to those who register.
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