Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for 49 years on “Sesame Street,” died Sunday in Connecticut after living with dystonia. He was 85 years old.
Sesame Workshop announced his death, calling him an “artistic genius” whose “legacy here at Sesame Workshop and in the cultural firmament will be endless.” Spinney’s death came on the same day “Sesame Street” is to receive the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor in Washington, DC
âHis enormous talent and oversized heart were perfectly suited to play the larger-than-life yellow bird that has delighted generations of children and countless fans of all ages around the world,â the announcement continued. , “and his adorably cantankerous crank has given us permission to be cranky every now and then,” Sesame Workshop said.
Spinney was with âSesame Streetâ from the start in 1969 and continued to work as Big Bird and Oscar until 2018, although he stopped performing in the Big Bird costume in 2015 when he became too. physically demanding. He first met Jim Henson in 1962 at a puppet festival, but the idea of ââworking for him only came after they reconnected at another festival in 1969. As Big Bird and Oscar , he has conducted several orchestras, including the Boston Pops, across the United States, China and Australia.
His work on âSesame Streetâ earned Spinney five Daytime Emmy Awards, beginning in 1974 with individual accomplishments in the children’s programming of âSesame Streetâ. His most recent victory was in 2007 for the interpreter of a children’s series for Oscar the Grouch. It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for the album “Merry Christmas from Sesame Street” in 1976. In 2006, Spinney received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Prior to joining “Sesame Street”, Spinney worked at “Bozo’s Big Top” in Boston after his Air Force service, which he joined at age 19. He played several characters including Kookie the Boxing Kangaroo and Mr. Lion, although he eventually left the show, ending up in Salt Lake City, performing at the fateful festival where he met Henson.
Spinney has appeared in “The Muppet Movie”, “The Great Muppet Caper”, “Big Bird in China” and “Follow that Bird”. He also appeared in 2009 in “Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian” as Oscar the Grouch. Documentary filmmakers Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker created a film about Spinney, “I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story”, in 2014.
“He’s been able to learn to speak straight to the heart of probably anything, from 2 year olds to 5, 6, 7 year olds – and adults, in fact,” “Sesame Street” plays Bob McGrath stated in the doc. âIt was more obvious to us the first time we went out and really played for the kids. Every time you mentioned Big Bird the place blew up. It was like a mini Woodstock.
‘Sesame Street’ co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney said of her longtime colleague and friend: âCaroll Spinney’s contributions to ‘Sesame Street’ are endless. He not only gave us Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, he also gave a lot of himself. At Sesame Workshop, we mourn his passing and feel immense gratitude for all he has given to âSesame Streetâ and to children around the world. “
Spinney is survived by his second wife, Debra, as well as the children and grandchildren from his first marriage.