News on the death of Jim Henson came first; bulletins at first and then confirmations and then full reports. Within an hour, as we were digesting the news of Jim Henson we heard about the death of Sammy Davis Jr. – again, first as a bulletin and then confirmations and full reports – when the top of the hour came and the network news was broadcast, it was almost a coin toss to see which one of these icons passings would be mentioned first. The fact of the matter was; they were both stunning losses. In the case of Sammy Davis Jr. the end was not sudden, it had been expected as Davis had been battling Throat Cancer for a few years. Henson was a shock – a brief illness and complications – nothing long and drawn out – but the shock and loss came swift.
If you were around for a while you were well familiar with both of these names – Sammy Davis Jr. had been a household personality and artist for years, decades even. Henson was familiar too, but many of us didn’t grow up with The Muppets, weren’t daily watchers of Sesame Street – but we all knew Kermit, Miss Piggy and all the others. Henson was more than a puppeteer, he breathed a unique and engaging life into these clumps of modeled material, gave them personalities we all knew and all felt a special kinship with. Funny sometimes, what an inanimate object can sometimes do.
The thing about icons and legends is that they become part of your life; your story growing up. They affect you in ways you often can’t put your finger on and appear when you least expect them. For both Jim Henson and Sammy Davis Jr., we thought they would always be around – always be with us to some degree; they were extended family.
On this day in 1990 it was sad, doubly sad – it was a day to stop and think about places and things and people and sounds. A lot of other news happened that day, but they blended into a wall of quiet mumbling as we looked back and May 16, 1990 became a day of reflection.
Here’s how it happened, as KNX and CBS Radio described it.