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Henson’s Death Leaves Muppet Voice Void

May 17, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ The death of Jim Henson left a chasm on Sesame Street and beyond. It also left questions about who would do the voices of Kermit the Frog and other beloved Muppet characters.

Henson, 53, died Wednesday of multi-organ failure brought on by complications from galloping pneumonia, said Dr. David M. Gelmont, who treated Henson at New York Hospital.

A memorial service was scheduled for Monday at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, said Susan Berry, a spokeswoman for Jim Henson Productions.

It was unclear what affect Henson’s death would have on the program, which is produced by the Children’s Television Workshop.

After Mel Blanc died on July 10, 1989, his son, Noel, took over the voices of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and other Warner Bros. characters.

Henson and with his wife, Jane, had five children who range from age 19 to 30.

Lisa Simon, who produces Sesame Street, said it wasn’t immediately known what would become of the voices of Kermit; Ernie, the smiling humanoid devoted to his rubber duckie; and Guy Smiley, ″America’s favorite game show host.″

Henson always did those voices and had no substitute.

It also wasn’t known whether Henson’s death - or any new voices for the characters - would be explained to the children who watch the show.

″We’re just dealing with shock of Jim’s death,″ said Simon.

In 1982, Will Lee, the actor who played the kindly shopkeeper Mr. Hooper, died at age 74. The next season, young viewers were told about Mr. Hooper’s death.

Viewers got the news on the Thanksgiving program, chosen because parents were likely to be with their children then to answer questions.

In a four-minute segment, players on the program explained the death to Big Bird, who bought birdseed milkshakes from Mr. Hooper’s store.

″Just because,″ he was told.

Another human character, David, said he had taken over the store and would be providing Big Bird’s beverages.

At the end of the segment, Big Bird hung a drawing of Mr. Hooper over his nest - and viewers were told that a baby had been born to a human couple on the program.

″That’s the amazing thing about babies,″ said Big Bird. ″One minute they’re not here, the next minute they are.″

″Sesame Street″ reaches 11 million American households and is broadcast in 80 countries. It has been estimated that about half of all American children between ages 3 and 5 watch the show.

The show is shot from September through January, and the 22nd season begins airing next January.

″That gives us the opportunity to catch our breath and see where we’re going to go from here,″ said Simon. ″There are a lot of characters on the show other than Jim’s characters.″

A Walt Disney Co. spokesman said despite Henson’s death, Ponce D. Lion and other Muppets will still get a series on the Disney Television Channel, and a 3-D Muppet movie will be produced as planned.

Under an agreement signed last summer, the company purchased rights to use Muppet characters in its theme parks, movies, TV shows and retail products.

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