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Man who played Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street dies at 85


Caroll Spinney - Getty images

The longtime puppeteer behind beloved Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, Caroll Spinney, has died at age 85, the Sesame Street Workshop announced in a statement.

Spinney spent five decades with Sesame Street, working with legendary puppeteer Jim Henson at the start of his career.

"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," the workshop announced in a statement. "Our hearts go out to Caroll’s beloved wife, Debra, and all of his children and grandchildren."

While Spinney himself may not have had the widespread recognition of his characters, his portrayal of the 8-foot yellow bird and trash can-dwelling Oscar, skyrocketed both characters to global fame. Big Bird has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, his likeness on a U.S. postage stamp and was named a "Living Legend" in 2000 by the Library of Congress.

"Those of us privileged to work alongside him and call him friend saw first-hand that he cared so deeply about what these characters represented and how they could truly create change," the Jim Henson Company said in a statement.

In a 2015 interview on the website Reddit, Spinney recalled one of his most meaningful interactions with a child. He said he had received a letter asking him to call a 5-year-old boy named Joey who was "so ill, the little boy knew he was dying," Spinney said in the interview.

"He said the only thing that cheered him at all in his fading state was to see Big Bird on television," Spinney said of the man who had written to him. When he called and spoke to the child as Big Bird, their conversation lasted for about ten minutes. He said, 'Thank you for calling me, Big Bird. You're my friend. You make me happy,'" Spinney recalled. The child died months after the call.

"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," said Sesame Street co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney in a statement.

Spinney, who retired from Sesame Street in 2018, had been living with Dystonia -- a chronic disorder that makes muscles contract abnormally -- for some time and died at his home in Connecticut. He leaves behind his wife Debra, children and grandchildren.

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