Caroll Spinney, Original Puppeteer Behind Sesame Street's Big Bird & Oscar the Grouch, Dies at 85

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Eric Todisco
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Sesame Street has lost one of its original residents.

Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who played Big Bird on the show for nearly 50 years, has died at age 85, Sesame Workshop announced in a statement Sunday.

According to the statement, Spinney, who also voiced Oscar the Grouch since he joined the show in 1969, died Sunday day at his home in Connecticut after living with dystonia for some time. Dystonia is a movement disorder that affects a person’s muscles.

“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,” the statement said.

“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,” the statement added.

Caroll Spinney | Gil Vaknin/Sesame Street
Caroll Spinney | Gil Vaknin/Sesame Street

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Sesame Street‘s co-founder said of Spinney in the statement, “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.”

Nearly 50 years after joining the series, Spinney retired from his roles as Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch in October 2018.

“I always thought, how fortunate for me that I got to play the two best Muppets?” he told the NYT last year.

Caroll Spinney | Astrid Stawiarz/Getty
Caroll Spinney | Astrid Stawiarz/Getty

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Spinney recorded more than 4,400 episodes as the two puppets, according to the NYT.

“Playing Big Bird is one of the most joyous things of my life,” he said.

Spinney said the physical requirements of performing the characters had become difficult in recent years, and he developed problems with his balance.

He stopped puppeteering Big Bird in 2015 and only provided the voices for him and Oscar until his retirement.