Early in the morning on May 16th, 1990 I was driving to high school. Thanks to some AP credits my last semester consisted of three study hall classes and senior English, so my day didn’t even start until 10:30 AM. I was feeling pretty good, I’d been accepted into Southwest Texas State University, so college was covered. My last week of school was going to be a breeze, and after some goofing off time I was going to Europe for a month.
I’d gotten up early to run some errands so I was killing time driving around the few hours before class. The radio station I was listening to was Dallas 94.5, The Edge. It was our local alternative station and was about the only place you were going to get to hear New Order or The Cure, etc. I don’t remember what the song was that was playing at that exact moment. But I do remember the music halting. I thought I hit some type of weird signal dead spot but it was static, it was silence. Then the DJ spoke.
“Listeners we are interrupting the morning show to let you know it has just been brought to our attention that Jim Henson has died in a hospital in New York. He was 53 years old. We will have a moment of silence to honor his passing”
My brain couldn’t process the words.
Just the previous week I had seen him on the Arsenio Hall show. He’d brought Rowlf with him and went through an extremely funny routine where Rowlf called Arsenio a “son of a bitch” then patiently explained it was the highest compliment a dog could pay someone. I had grown up with the Muppet Show. The Muppet Movie was a childhood staple and even into my proto-adulthood “Movin’ Right Along” remained one of my favorite tunes.
I drove stunned, and the moment of radio silence lasted roughly five seconds. Then the opening banjo strums of Rainbow Connection played over the radio. I pulled over.
The hippest, edgy alternative station in Dallas played the entirety of that wonderful children’s song while I sat there in my 1985 Mercury Lynx that my father had just given me and struggled mightily with the something in my eyes. The rest of that day I was morose. I couldn’t even explain to anyone why, as 75% of the people in my high school were vacuous airheads who would shrug and say “oh yeah I like sesame street” without realizing just how brilliant Henson’s entire body of work was.
20 years ago our culture lost a powerful voice, one that shaped an entire generation of children and continues to shape them today.
So give Kermit a listen. And thanks Mr. Henson, for all you gave to us.