Carroll Spinney, who gave Big Bird his warmth and Oscar the Grouch his growl for nearly 50 years on “Sesame Street,” died Sunday at the age of 85 at his home in Connecticut, according to the Sesame Workshop.

Big Bird puppeteer Caroll Spinney. (Sesame Street)

Caroll Spinney retired last year after performing Big Bird and Oscar The Grouch on SESAME STREET since the landmark television series premiered in 1969. He suffered from dystonia, a condition which creates involuntary muscle movements, in a man whose voluntary muscle movements created performances for generations of children learning to read, count, live and thrive.

Photo from “I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story” (2014)

Spinney stopped getting inside Big Bird in 2015 when it had become too physically demanding for him to work the costume, but he continued to provide the voice for him and Oscar until his retirement. After service in the US Air Force, he began his career of professional puppetry performing on “Bozo’s Big Top” and creating multimedia for live events.

Jim Henson discovered him at a puppet festival in Salt Lake City, where the technical aspects failed but Caroll’s talent shone through, enough for him to get hired shortly thereafter. Caroll’s unparalleled career saw Big Bird visit China with Bob Hope, dance with the Rockettes, be celebrated with a U.S. postage stamp, and named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. The Television Academy awarded him five Daytime Emmy Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. His Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard, and we may drop by to pay respects.

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.”

Caroll was beloved on social media for a heart as kind as Big Bird’s, and we are going to miss him. He leaves behind his wife Debra, whom he met working for the Children’s Television Workshop, and their children and grandchildren.


Susan L. Fox
Susan L. Fox