Caroll Spinney It might not be a name you know and you might never have seen his face. But you’ve undoubtedly seen his work, and maybe he even shaped your childhood. Spinney is the puppeteer behind Sesame Street’s character Big Bird, as well as the grumpy Oscar the Grouch. After 50 years with the show, personally hired by Jim henson himself, Spinney retired last fall, and this year he said his final farewells, having passed away at the age of 85.
Sesame Workshop announced the death of Caroll Spinney after living with dystonia for some time. He died at his Connecticut home, and his longtime TV house released this statement in his honor:
“Caroll was an artistic genius whose kind and loving view of the world helped shape and define Sesame Street from its earliest days in 1969 to five decades, and its legacy here at Sesame Workshop and in the cultural firmament will be endless. His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to play the larger-than-life yellow bird that has delighted generations of children and countless fans of all ages across the globe, and his adorably cantankerous crank gave everyone permission to be cranky once in awhile.
welcome to Sesame Street by Jim Henson, Caroll thrived under a mentorship that led to a great friendship spanning decades. Caroll’s unprecedented career has seen Big Bird visit China with Bob Hope, dance with the Rockettes, be celebrated with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a US postage stamp, and named “Living Legend” by the Library of Canada. Congress. One of Caroll’s highlights was conducting and performing with symphony orchestras in the United States, Australia and China, which allowed him to personally connect with families around the world through the music of Sesame Street. Caroll Spinney gave the world something really special. With the deepest admiration, Sesame Workshop is proud to carry his memory – and his beloved characters – into the future. Our hearts go out to Caroll’s beloved wife, Debra, and all of her children and grandchildren. “
At the retirement of Sesame Street last year, Spinney fondly recalled his half-century at Sesame Workship, recounting The New York Times, “I always thought, ‘How lucky for me to have been able to play the two best Muppets. Playing Big Bird is one of the happiest things in my life. “
Several generations have received many lessons from Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Playing Big Bird required him to dress in chunky orange bird-footed pants, then cover Big Bird’s upper body. Using his hands, sons, and a TV screen strapped to his chest, he was able to maneuver around the set and interact with all of the other puppets and human characters in the show.
In addition to bringing these two characters to life, Spinney also played the occasional role who at times also played Bruno the Trash Man, Granny Bird, and Elmo on Sesame Street. The puppeteer has also traveled the world to play the character in front of a live audience, even conducting orchestras and meeting with political leaders.
Puppetry was a dream Spinney had since he was young, starting out playing a character named Rascal Rabbit on television in 1955, as well as working on a show called Bozo’s Big Top in Boston. But it was his meeting with Jim Henson at a puppeteer festival in Salt Lake City in 1969 that put him in the entertainment history books by joining the cast of Sesame Street in 1969.
Spinney has a Daytime Emmys, two Grammys, a Library of Congress Living Legend Award in 2000 and also presented a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 2006.
If you want to learn more about the life and career of Caroll Spinney, check out the documentary I am a big bird.