Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Death of Jim Henson

Even as sensitive as I am, few celebrity deaths have upset me as much as that of Jim Henson; as bad as it was that day - actually this day in 1990 - the more of his works I discover, the deeper I go into his legacy, the more acutely I feel this particular loss...

PhotobucketBy no means was I alone in my grief; Henson's death, coming as it did after such a short illness and at such a young age as well, sent shock waves through the entertainment industry. I suspect there are very few people in Generation X who weren't in some way touched by Henson in the course of their lifetime, whether it was the lessons they learned in sharing and compassion from Sesame Street, or the manic trip through the legacy of vaudeville represented by The Muppet Show, the rumination on the importance of community that was Fraggle Rock, or the lyrically lovely 1982 film The Dark Crystal that serves as the apex of his career as surely as it sets out the timeless dance between good and evil.

The real lesson of his death, though, is one which we would all do well to remember... Despite his laid-back persona, Henson was a driven workaholic. In the weeks before his death he was suffering from persistent flu-like symptoms, which he felt would go away on their own, and so he didn't bother to seek treatment. The day before he died his breathing became laboured, and he began coughing up blood; finally convinced to seek medical attention, he checked into New York Hospital. He never came out. Less than 24 hours later - on this day in 1990 - he was dead of multiple organ failure; the cause of death was later determined to be a virulent form of Streptococcus. Had he gone to hospital even a few hours earlier, he might be alive today.

Although they were often subtle, Henson's works could all be counted on to have a moral to their story; the moral of the story of the life (and death) of Jim Henson is surely to look after your health, or it will look after you.
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