Eulogy for Jim Henson

Given by Frank Oz at St. John the Divine Church, NY (May 12, 1990)

“Jim and I were opposites in so many ways.

I think it worked mainly because of patience and understanding, that which we had together both personally and in performance. And in the creative partnership that I shared with him and others.

I knew, not all the time, but in the last fifteen years or so, that he was a very singular human being.

Looking here I think I only realise now how large a man this was.  This man that I just worked with and played with, and had so much fun with.

And we did have fun, we had such great silly fun together. The best thing of all—the best thing—is when you watched Jim laugh until he cried. It usually happened when we were recording something, or performing with the gang … and we’d get so punch and silly at two in the morning. And Jim would … just get that high whine … and  he couldn’t speak, and the tears were rolling down, and he’d try to add to the joke and he just couldn’t do it, and it was the best thing to see because you knew he was always busy and always working under pressure. And thinking, it was such a purge and a release—it was wonderful, the best thing to see him do that.

I can’t tell you how much he supported me. I joined when I was 19, 27 years ago, and he’s given me the most amazing opportunities. And he’s taught me so much, just by being the person that he is. It’s very important to me. There’s so much to tell. Let me just zero in on one little thing.

About fifteen years ago, we were doing Saturday Night Live, the first year of Saturday Night Live, Jim and I and a few others of the gang were doing some puppets there. And it was before Christmas , and it was just prior to dress rehearsal and the other guys had gone away to have lunch or something, so Jim and I were hanging around the halls, and as I recall in the hallway Jim came up with a camera. And he said in his own quiet, enthusiastic way, he said, ‘Frank, I need to go in a dressing room with you, and um, see if you’d take off all of your clothes soI could take a picture of you naked?’

I said, ‘whoooa!’ I said, ‘what?’

He said ‘I really need to do this, I need to take some photos of you naked.’

We discussed this for a while.

I said, ‘okay, alright’.

So we went in the dressing room, and I took off all my clothes, buck naked. Locked the door of course.

And he told me how to pose.

He said, ‘put your hands over your genitals,’ which I was glad to do, ‘Bend over like this, and look into the camera in a state of shock,’ – which was not difficult at that time.

So I bent over and I looked, like that, and he took some photos of me naked. Okay, no problem. Um. I got dressed, we did the show.

It was Christmas time, he gave me a gift. The gift was about this large, I have it, and the gift, I’ll describe it to you, it’s difficult, it’s made of some of Bert’s toys. It was a wall hanging, sculpture kinda thing, about this big. And it was a head of Bert, and Bert’s arms are holding a ledge, and on the ledge are about a dozen little Berts, tiny Berts that you can buy in the store at that time, about an inch and a half high , and you could turn them in different direction, looking over there, looking over there, and you could turn them back to look at the Big Bert’s head while the Big Bert was looking down at the Little Berts. And on that ledge underneath the Berts, were faces, photographs that Jim had obviously taken of many of the workshop people who were responsible in the making of Bert, and certainly all of which were responsible in the making of The Muppets. And they were all looking up to camera, and their little faces were tiny , about that big, all along the top of the ledge.

On the edge of this wooden ledge, Jim had painted layers, these striations, which were I gathered like layers of Bert’s mind. Layers of Bert’s soul. By the way I do Bert to Jim’s Ernie. And within those layers, the striations, he’d painted textures, beautiful little textures.

And then, I noticed, Bert’s eyes, the large Bert, Bert’s eyes, the pupils were cut out.

And you look inside Bert’s brain, and there I am naked, looking like this.

I knew he had a good reason.

I say that, to share that with you … oh by the way, he titled that ‘Bert in Self Contemplation’. I share it with you because so much of Jim is in that gift. The detail that he loved so much – Persian rugs and trees and the like – the details in the layers, the textures in which he had so much fun. I’d just see him hunched over all gleeful, doing this.

I could just see him cutting all those photo out so he doesn’t cut the ears or the noses off of people, he pasted them on himself. And the generosity of time in order to do this when he was so busy.

The generosity of taking the time to do it.

And not only the giving of the gift, but the anticipation of giving. I can’t tell you so many times Jim would say to me, ‘Oh I can’t wait to give this gift to Janie, or Brian or David, or whoever. The anticipation of giving was so wonderful with Jim. And the complexity of that gift, Bert looking at himself, me inside, the little Berts looking at the people around, the complexity, inwardness of that. And the simplicity of the concept was also Jim. And the quality of the gift, and the craftsmanship, and it all speaks so much of Jim, that gift. And I think the love … I think that’s when I knew …  he loved me and I loved him.”

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