Jane Nebel Henson died in her Connecticut home on Tuesday after a lengthy battle with cancer, The Jim Henson Company announced. She was 78 years old.
A New York City native, she met Jim Henson in a puppetry class at the University of Maryland, College Park when they were both freshmen. The two created and performed together on a television show, Sam and Friends, which aired on the local NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., while they were still in school. The Muppets on Sam and Friends soon gained popularity and began appearing on variety shows such as Steve Allen's Tonight Show.
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Nebel graduated in 1955, but continued to work with Henson on Sam and Friends as a performer, puppet designer/builder and business partner. The two married at Nebel's parents' house in May 1959. The couple had five children: Lisa, Cheryl, Brian, John and Heather.
Nebel retired from full-time Muppeteering in the early 1960s to raise their children, but continued to perform non-speaking Muppets on Sesame Street through at least the 1980s. She also collaborated with her husband on projects including The Art of The Muppets museum exhibit, The Muppet Show on Tour and Sesame Street Live stage shows. Nebel was known for spotting puppeteer talent and hired many of the company's top puppeteers, like Steve Whitmire in 1978.
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Nebel served on the board of The Jim Henson Foundation, which was established in 1982 to promote and develop the art of puppetry. She and Henson separated in 1986 but remained close until his death in 1990. Two years later, she founded The Jim Henson Legacy to conserve, preserve and present her late husband's many artistic contributions. She also served on the board for the American Center for Children's Television.
A tribute page for Nebel was set up Tuesday, and a memorial mass is planned for next week.