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Jane Henson, Muppets Co-Creator And Widow Of Jim Henson, Dies At 78

GREENWICH, Conn. (CBSNewYork) -- Puppeteer and philanthropist Jane Henson, the widow of the legendary Jim Henson, died Tuesday at her home in Connecticut.

Mrs. Henson, who was the co-creator of the iconic Muppets, passed away following a long battle with cancer, according to a news release from the Jim Henson Foundation. She was 78.

Born in the St. Albans section of Queens, Jane Nebel met Jim Henson while studying fine arts education at the University of Maryland in 1954.

They created and performed the earliest Muppet characters on the television program "Sam and Friends," and soon made their first national television appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Steve Allen.

Jim and Jane Henson married in 1959 and had five children. They separated in 1986, but "continued to share their love of, and vision for, the Muppets," the release said.

While working with the Muppets, Mrs. Henson continued her fine arts studies at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and became an art teacher at the Mead School for Human Development.

But she maintained her participation in the Jim Henson Company and worked with Jim Henson on projects including the "Sesame Street Live" and "Muppet Show on Tour" arena shows, the release said.

She also became the port of entry for many performers looking to get into the Muppets organization – including Steve Whitmire, who went on take over performing Kermit the Frog, and Ernie of "Sesame Street," after Jim Henson's death in 1990.

Mrs. Henson was also a board member of the Jim Henson Foundation, which was by Jim Henson in 1982 to develop the art of puppetry and is now headed by daughter Cheryl Henson. She also co-founded the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center.

A memorial mass for Mrs. Henson is set for next week.

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