CONNECTICUT—The voice of “Sesame Street’s” ‘Big Bird’ and ‘Oscar the Grouch,’ Caroll Spinney died on Sunday, December 8 at his home in Connecticut.
Spinney, the puppeteer responsible for the “Sesame Street” died at the age of 85 after battling Dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that causes muscle contractions. He began voicing the puppets in 1969 and continued to do so for five decades.
According to the Sesame Street workshop website, Caroll’s puppet career saw his characters visit China with Bob Hope, dance with the Rockettes, be celebrated with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and earn a U.S. postage stamp. He was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. “Sesame Street” co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney indicated the following about her colleague:
“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.”
Spinney was born in Waltham, Massachusetts, on December 26, 1933. His mother named him Caroll because he was born the day after Christmas. He enjoyed drawing and painting as a child and developed a love of puppeteering when he saw a performance of “Three Little Kittens” at the age of five. He began puppeteering and went on throughout his childhood and adolescence, using his performances to raise money for college tuition. After graduating high school, Spinney served in the United States Air Force.
Though Big Bird and Oscar are his main characters, Spinney has performed as other characters, including Big Birds grandma.
On October 17, 2018, Spinney officially announced his retirement from the series “Sesame Street.” His last performances as Big Bird and Oscar were recorded in advance to be included in the series’ landmark 50th season, which will air during 2019. The roles of Big Bird and Oscar were handed over to Matt Vogel and Eric Jacobson, respectively.
Spinney had three children from his first marriage to Janice Spinney and has four grandchildren. He is survived by his second wife, Debra Jean Gilroy, his three children, and grandchildren. Spinney would have turned 86 in less than 3 weeks.