When Big Bird Sang “Bein’ Green” at Jim Henson’s Memorial Service

On July 2, 1990, Carroll Spinney—the legendary puppeteer behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch—paid tribute to the man who had given him so much.
Richard Termine/HBO
Richard Termine/HBO / Richard Termine/HBO

On May 16, 1990, Muppet creator Jim Henson passed away at the age of 53 after a short battle with a bacterial infection (his death was ruled to be the result of toxic shock syndrome). Five days later, a memorial service was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. In July, another memorial was held in London, at St. Paul's Cathedral; both services were open to the public.

Four years before his passing, Henson had given very clear instructions about the services, requesting that no attendees wear black and that a jazz band be present. According to one account, Henson also reportedly wrote that “I’m not at all afraid of the thought of death and look forward to it. It would be lovely if there were a song or two ... and someone said some nice happy words about me.”

It was at the second service, in London, that Sesame Street legend Caroll Spinney—the puppeteer behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch—paid tribute to his longtime collaborator with a devastating performance of “Bein’ Green” (a.k.a. “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green”), the song made famous by Kermit the Frog, which he performed on both The Muppet Show and Sesame Street. (On Sunday, December 8, 2019, Spinney himself passed away at his home in Connecticut at the age of 85.)

You can see more of the videos collected from Henson's memorial services, which are touching, funny, heartfelt, and often heartbreaking, here.

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A version of this story ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2024.