Labyrinth: Jim Henson Asked His Family To Help Decide Between David Bowie, Sting, and Michael Jackson

There are few American filmmakers more iconic than Jim Henson. Henson, with his wife Jane, created The Muppets, and he went on to direct or co-direct a number of feature films featuring some of the most sophisticated puppetry techniques in the world, pushing the art forward and creating entertainment that endures three decades after his death. Similarly, it's hard to imagine anyone but David Bowie in the role of Jareth, the Goblin King in Henson's film Labyrinth. The pop culture icon elevated the role, becoming one of the most memorable characters of the 1980s and alternately terrifying or delighting generations of viewers.

It was at least plausible that someone else could have ended up in the role, though. During the casting stage, Henson reportedly entertained the idea of Sting taking on the part of Jareth, and more seriously considered the idea of the role going to Michael Jackson.

"I can't speak for my siblings, but I can say for me, I vaguely remember the name Sting coming up," Brian Henson told ComicBook. "I definitely remember Michael Jackson and David Bowie. I had just been at university for the one year that I went to college, and I can tell you that I was going from nightclub to nightclub, and Michael Jackson and David Bowie were the two biggest names in my generation, for sure. So when he asked me, I was leaning in favor of David Bowie. I just felt like Bowie had a quirkiness and yet a really coolness that would work really well for my dad, whereas Michael had a perfection to his work that would have been tough."

That sense of perfection likely would have been impossible to maintain on a set full of puppets, many of whom were temperamental since they were being operated using technology invented specifically for the movie.

"I think it would have been tough for Michael to be Michael in Labyrinth," Henson added. "He would have had to compromise his perfection, and then maybe that's no longer Michael, whereas David was always unpredictable. I remember going with my dad to see David in The Elephant Man on stage and saying, 'God, this is such an unusual artist, David Bowie.' All I remember is when he asked me, I said, 'I think David Bowie.'"

The Henson children, who grew up with their father running The Muppet Show -- a global hit that once boasted more than 250 million weekly viewers -- were certainly used to meeting celebrities and other interesting people, explained Jim's daughter Cheryl Henson, who runs the Jim Henson Foundation. 

"David Bowie was a superstar even when he was on the set," she admitted. "He did his best to relate to everybody, and to be super friendly and make sure that everybody felt comfortable and easy talking to him, but he was still a superstar and we all knew it. So, it's not like [Jennifer Connelly, who] became famous later. He was super famous then and we were in awe of him."

Jackson, of course, would go on to star in Captain EO that same year, a film developed for Disney Parks and directed by Francis Ford Coppolla from a screenplay by Jim Henson's friend and collaborator George Lucas.


Tonight's 35th Anniversary screenings of Jim Henson's Labyrinth will be preceded by a brief featurette entitled "The Henson Legacy" - Jennifer Connelly and the Henson family talk about the art of puppetry and the magic of Jim Henson, along with a visit to the "Center for Puppetry Arts" featuring The Jim Henson Collection and over 100 puppets from Labyrinth.

There's still time to get your tickets at this link. The screenings take place at 7 p.m. ET local time at dozens of theaters around the country.