Sesame Street’s Big Bird Puppeteer, Caroll Spinney, Dies

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Photo of Big Bird and Caroll Spinney via Sesame Street

Caroll Spinney, the legendary puppeteer behind beloved Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, died today, (Dec. 8). The news was announced by the influential program on its various social media platforms. Spinney, 85, died at his home in Connecticut, after living with Dystonia, a neurological disorder syndrome, for some time.

Spinney left big shoes when he retired in 2018. He received four honorary doctorates, a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award, six Emmys, two Gold Records and two Grammy Awards.

From the announcement: “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 through five decades, and his legacy here at Sesame Workshop and in the cultural firmament will be unending. His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to playing the larger-than-life yellow bird who brought joy to generations of children and countless fans of all ages around the world, and his lovably cantankerous grouch gave us all permission to be cranky once in a while.”

Watch a 2018 tribute to Spinney upon his retirement

Welcomed to Sesame Street by Jim Henson, Caroll thrived under a mentorship that led to a decades-long great friendship. Caroll’s unparalleled career saw Big Bird visit China with Bob Hope, dance with the Rockettes, be celebrated with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a U.S. postage stamp, and named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. A favorite highlight for Caroll was conducting symphony orchestras and performing with them across the United States, Australia, and China, allowing him to personally connect with families everywhere through the music of Sesame Street. Caroll Spinney gave something truly special to the world. With 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 his children and grandchildren.

Watch Johnny Cash and Oscar the Grouch sing “Nasty Dan”

Related: The U.S.P.S. honored Sesame Street with a stamp in 2019 on its 50th anniversary

Sesame Street co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney said of her longtime colleague and friend, “Caroll Spinney’s contributions to Sesame Street are countless. He not only gave us Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, he gave so much of himself as well. We at Sesame Workshop mourn his passing and feel an immense gratitude for all he has given to Sesame Street and to children around the world.”

Spinney was born in Waltham, Mass., on Dec. 26, 1933.

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