John Henson, occasional puppeteer and son of Muppets creator, dies at 48

February 17

John Henson, who occasionally performed as a puppeteer in the famed Muppets troupe his father founded, died Feb. 14 at his home in Saugerties, N.Y. He was 48.

The cause was a heart attack, though he did not have a history of heart trouble, his sister Cheryl Henson said.

His father, Jim Henson, was 53 when he died of pneumonia in 1990.

John Henson sometimes performed as Sweetums, a large, hairy Muppet who towered over other puppets and humans. He played the character for a while at a Muppets attraction at Disney World, where, near the end of the show, he would run into the audience to screams of delight from fans, said Brian Jay Jones, whose biography of Jim Henson was published last year. John Henson also trained others to play Sweetums.

He was on the board of the Jim Henson Co., headquartered in Los Angeles, but he had little to do with the company’s day-to-day operations.


John Henson, son of the Muppets creator Jim Henson, died at his home in Saugerties, N.Y. He sometimes performed as the puppet Sweetums. (D Dipasupil/Getty Images)

“He was more of an artist,” Jones said. “He renovated a turn-of-the-century schoolhouse, making every surface in the house interesting and beautiful. He had his dad’s mentality in that he was so detail-oriented.”

He made several Muppet-themed sculptures, some of which were placed in company offices and workshops.

Jones said he was “the spiritual Henson.” After his father’s death, he took possession of the cremated ashes for two years and determined where to scatter them. “John and Jim were once driving in New Mexico, near Taos,” Jones said. “Jim pointed to a hill and said he thought that it was the place where he was meant to live.” In 1992, John Henson and other family members traveled there to spread the ashes.

His mother, Jane Henson, died last year of cancer at 78.

Survivors include his wife, Gyongyi Henson; two daughters; three sisters; and a brother.

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