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RIP Carroll Spinney, Puppeteer of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2019

Sad news from Sesame Street: Carroll Spinney, the puppeteer who played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for almost 50 years, died today at age 85.

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.

Spinney had retired from the show last year, citing health concerns. Here’s a look at how he operated the Big Bird puppet (more here):

Big Bird Inside

Spinney came out with a book in 2003 called The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers and was the subject of a 2015 documentary called I Am Big Bird. Here’s a trailer:

At Sesame Street creator Jim Henson’s memorial service at Cathedral of St. John the Divine after his unexpected death in 1990, Spinney walked out and, in full Big Bird costume, sang “It Ain’t Easy Being Green” in tribute to his friend:

Total silence after he finished…I can’t imagine there was a dry eye in the house after that. Rest in peace, gentle men.