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Muppets matriarch Jane Nebel Henson dies at age 78

Muppet character Sweetums holds a commemorative plaque as he lies beside the newly unveiled Muppets star as other Mupetts background (L-R) A
Muppet character Sweetums holds a commemorative plaque as he lies beside the newly unveiled Muppets star as other Mupetts background (L-R) A

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Jane Nebel Henson, the former wife of Muppets creator Jim Henson who was influential in the creation of the popular U.S. TV puppet program, died on Tuesday following a long bout with cancer, The Jim Henson Company said. She was 78 years old.

Henson, who died at her home in Connecticut, was an "integral creative and business partner" in the Muppets, the company, owned by the Hensons' five children, said in a statement.

Jane Henson, born in Queens, New York, in 1934, was an early puppeteer, as well as puppet designer for the Muppets, best known for characters Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, who starred in numerous television programs and films.

She first met Jim Henson in puppetry class at the University of Maryland in the mid-1950s and the two went on to create together the five-minute television program "Sam and Friends," a precursor to the Muppets.

The show served as a lead-in to "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" news show and "The Tonight Show Starring Steve Allen" on a Washington, D.C., NBC affiliate.

Although Henson stopped working as a puppeteer to raise her children in the early 1960s, she was still responsible for recruiting top talent and performing on occasion on the children's show "Sesame Street."

Henson legally separated from her husband in 1986 prior to his death. She later founded The Jim Henson Legacy to promote his work. She is survived by her five children.

Jim Henson died in 1990 of organ failure following a bacterial infection at age 53.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey, Editing by Jill Serjeant and Todd Eastham)

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