Do you remember where you were when Jim Henson died?
It's a legitimate question for people my age, since Henson's influence on my generation is impossible to overstate. It was twenty years ago last Sunday when the news broke that Jim Henson had died of pnuemonia, and I can say that in my case, it was one of the single most important events of my life.
Less than a month later, I was in a car, on my way to Los Angeles, ready to take my chances professionally as a writer and director. Obviously I'd spend much of my life thinking about moving to LA in an abstract sense, but it was the realization that mortality didn't care if you were one of the most generous, good-hearted, positively influential people in the industry or not... when it's your time to go, it's your time to go. If Jim Henson could drop dead unexpectedly, anyone could. And more than anything, it was the idea that I would never have a professional experience that involved him that motivated me to get moving. I guess some part of me always figured that I would find a way to work with or for Jim Henson. It just seemed inevitable.
Looking back now, I mourn the hole that his passing left in the entertainment landscape of the last two decades. We needed Jim Henson, even if we didn't totally realize it when he was alive and working. Not just for his sense of humor or his dedication to education or even for his finely attuned moral compass, a genuine rarity in this industry. No, we needed him because he was fiercely devoted to original storytelling, the creation of characters, and the way technology enabled storytellers to build new worlds and do things that seemed impossible. He was a visionary, and he was ahead of most people in the rush to embrace digital tools both for post-production and for on-screen character work. It's not just his films that we've lost in the last 20 years... it's the ripple effect that his work would have had, and that's where I think the entire industry has suffered for having lost him.
Why was Henson such an important figure in film and television and education? And why did his death cause me to move 3000 miles?