TODAY

TODAY   |  October 15, 2013

Muppet creator Jim Henson’s legacy lives on

Nearly 23 years after the Muppets creator Jim Henson died, the magic of his legacy still carries on, spreading sophisticated humor that isn’t afraid to be silly and reminding people not to take life too seriously. TODAY’s Willie Geist reports.

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>>> since the world said good-bye to jim henson but long after the creative genius passed his iconic characters still entertain us and stay in our hearts. a new biography lifts the curtain on henson and willie caught up with those that knew him best.

>> all of us have been touched at one time or another from the world of jim henson . his characters and their educational but always irreverent style are as strong today as when he dreamed them up decades ago. they are some of the most iconic faces in entertainment.

>> welcome to the muppet show .

>> reporter: colorful creatures, garbage dwellers, unlikely love birds . and they are all, of course, the brain child of jim henson .

>> jim really celebrated and wanted people to not take things too serious and not take even him too seriously.

>> reporter: the author captures the life of henson in a new biography.

>> they still do muppets for sesame streak and still build costumes. there's drawers of eyes and hair and teeth.

>> he seemed to be the kind of kid, he was when he got into this business, that knew what he wanted to be early on. he was on tv as a teenager.

>> yeah, 17. when a local tv channel advertised for puppeteers to perform, he went to the library and taught himself to build and perform puppets and auditioned and got the job.

>> by his freshman year in college he got his own show on a local nbc affiliate.

>> he survived sam with all of these vague abstract characters including an early version of kermit the frog .

>> reporter: so the muppets were born. like many creations the characters evolved. kermit the thing became kermit the frog . this monster would lose his teeth and gain an addiction to cookies. in the 1960s , jim found regular working commercials and made frequent talk show appearances, including here on "today".

>> this is kermit .

>> this is sam.

>> reporter: but henson 's success was cemented when a broadcast by the children's television network came looking for his muppets to liven up the show.

>> all we did was screw around with each other and have fun.

>> reporter: frank was just 19 when he became one of henson 's first hires for his young company muppets , inc. their friendship lasted three decades and gave us the most iconic duos in history.

>> there's a great relationship. bert and ernie and miss piggy and kermit the frog . is there some of your relationship in there.

>> you hit it right on the nail. people can't grab the characters and perform them. it's not just the characters. it was us. jim was easy going. me i was always fighting up the river and this was bert and earn ernie.

>> reporter: with the success of sesame street came another project.

>> the muppet show was sophisticated human that didn't mind being silly.

>> jim was annoyed as i was when people thought the characters were cute. hated that.

>> reporter: he sums it up in two works.

>> anarchy.

>> reporter: with a series of successful films henson always had an eye on the next big thing. but his life was cut short.

>> jim henson , the creator of the muppets , dead of pneumonia at age 53.

>> reporter: family, friends and colleagues celebrated henson the only way they knew how. jim henson 's legacy, the unforgettable characters he brought to life.

>> he wanted to make the world a better place. and damed if he didn't. one man.

>> thank you, kermit .

>> frank oz who you heard from was the voice behind so many of the characters we loved. bert, fozzy, miss piggy and yoda from star wars . i asked what he would be working on today. he said at time of his death he was obsessed with computers and something like pixar would have been right up his alley.

>> it's amazing to see that body of work. we all became five years all again.

>> sesame street and the muppets .

>> i was watching by consequence last night. my 6-year-old daughter was watching and i watched her laughing at the characters he created in his mother's house in the 1950s . what a legacy.

>> willie, thank you. appreciate that.