Here's Who Inherited Jim Henson's Money After He Died

Jim Henson, the puppeteer who created the iconic Muppets, had a sore throat and felt rundown. It was May 4, 1990, and he was in Los Angeles for an appearance on "The Arsenio Hall Show," according to "Jim Henson: The Biography." He seemed off during the taping but didn't think he was sick enough to go to the doctor. That weekend, when his daughter, Cheryl, asked him if he was okay, he answered, "I'm just tired," per Entertainment Weekly. On Monday, Henson started coughing up blood, and by Wednesday morning he was dead. The 53-year-old died from multiple organ failure from a lethal and fast-moving strep infection.

As his family gathered at his New York City apartment following his death, Jim Henson's attorneys showed up wanting to discuss his company's legal situation. "We were thrown into having to deal with the legal complexity before we had time to breathe, much less mourn," Cheryl Hanson recalled in "Jim Henson: The Biography." Jim Henson's five children — Lisa, Brian, Cheryl, John, and Heather — inherited equal parts of their father's company, per Celebrity Net Worth and The Jim Henson Company.

Death amid a Disney Deal

At the time of his death, Jim Henson's eponymous company was valued at between $100 and $150 million, and the Disney Company had been in negotiations to buy its assets, according to Success magazine. While his five children inherited the Jim Henson Company, his wife, Jane Nebel Henson, had given up her stake in the company before her husband's death, per the Orlando Sentinel. Jane was separated from her husband, but they had not divorced at the time of his death.

The massive Disney deal fell through just months after Jim Henson's death, according to the Los Angeles Times. Lawsuits and public accusations between the Henson family and Disney executives followed. The Hensons alleged Disney had been using the Muppets without a licensing agreement. "Even though Disney walked away from its offer to buy our company, it is acting as if it owns the Muppets," Brian Henson, Jim Henson's oldest son, told the newspaper in April 1991. Disney responded by calling the Hensons' allegations "an enormous distortion of the facts." The next month, the two parties settled out of court, per the Times-Advocate. In 2004, Disney bought the rights to the Muppets.

Hensons still at the helm

After their father's death, the siblings elected Brian Henson, who was 27 at the time, to step into their late father's role and become CEO. Since 2009, Jim Henson's daughter, Lisa Henson, has been the company's CEO, with Brian in the role of board president. Cheryl Henson and Heather Henson are on the board of directors, and John Henson, the youngest brother, held the same position before he died of a heart attack in 2014. He also voiced the Muppet Sweetums. Though Jane Nebel Henson may not have inherited the company she helped start, in the mid-1990s, she founded The Jim Henson Legacy to preserve and celebrate her late husband's work. She died of cancer in 2013.

In the wake of their father's sudden death, the Henson siblings steered the company through many challenges and have stayed true to his vision. "Everyone was in emotional turmoil," Brian Henson told the Los Angeles Times in August 1990. "But that period also hardened their drive, and their feelings for what he wanted. Now they're probably more motivated to keep the dream alive than ever before."