By DOM GALEON
Puppeteer Caroll Spinney, the man who gave life to Sesame Street mainstays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, has passed away in his home on Connecticut on Dec. 8 after living for some time with dystonia, a movement disorder that causes uncontrollable muscle contractions. He was 85.
An accomplished cartoonist and author, he played the roles of the two characters since the beginning of the iconic children’s show in 1969 until he retired in 2018. He was part of the team who brought Sesame Street to life, together with the show’s creator Jim Henson who served as his mentor. The two met at a puppetry festival in 1962 and when Jim came up with the idea of the Muppets for Sesame Street, he brought Caroll in.
“Caroll was an artistic genius whose kind and loving view of the world helped shaped 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,” says the Sesame Street family in an official statement. “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.”
With Caroll inside the eight-foot-tall yellow costume, Big Bird was celebrated with a Hollywood Walk of Fame star and was named a “Living Legend” by the US Library of Congress. As Big Bird, he visited China with Bob Hope. He also conducted symphony orchestras performing the music of Sesame Street in the US, Australia, and China.
“[His] contributions to Sesame Street are countless,” says Joan Ganz Cooney, the show’s co-founder, in an official statement. “He not only gave us Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, he gave so much of himself as well.”
Caroll is survived by his wife Debra and his three children.