Caroll Spinney Oscar the Grouch
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Caroll Spinney, longtime puppeteer and voice of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, retiring from Sesame Street

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Oct 17, 2018, 10:45 AM EDT

It's the end of an era for Sesame Street

After nearly 50 years with the show, Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer and voice of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, is retiring. Spinney had been with the landmark educational program since its inception in 1969.

“Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind, and nurtured my soul,” said Spinney in an official statement. “And I plan to be an ambassador for Sesame Workshop for many years to come. After all, we’re a family! But now it’s time for two performers that I have worked with and respected — and actually hand-picked for the guardianship of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch — to take my alter-egos into their hands and continue to give them life.”

Caroll Spinney Big Bird Oscar the Grouch

Credit: Sesame Workshop

When he took the job in the late '60s, Spinney was working for Bozo the Clown, which he once admitted paid better than Sesame Street. However, he left that gig because he really wanted to work with Jim Henson, the main driving force behind The Muppets and Sesame Street. Unlike most of the other characters on the latter show, Big Bird is a full costume.

"I don't know how we got through the first year, when I was working pretty blind. We had a couple feathers that were held on with Velcro that I could see through, but that gave me a very unsatisfactory view," Spinney remarked to in 2015. "I had to try to crane my neck inside the bird costume to see the monitor to make sure that Big Bird actually looked like he was looking at Loretta or whoever he was talking to. I didn't feel I had full control."

Caroll Spinney Big Bird Sesame Street

Credit: Sesame Workshop

Caroll Spinney Oscar the Grouch Sesame Street

Credit: Sesame Workshop

Big Bird and Oscar are some of the most recognizable Sesame Street characters, iconic mascots for the property that are comparable to what Mickey Mouse is to Disney.

As nearly everyone knows, Bird Bird is a giant and yellow bipedal bird with an imaginary, elephantine friend, Snuffleupagus. Big Bird has taught children many things over the years — ranging from educational to poignant, such as introducing them to the concept of death, below.

Oscar, on the other hand, is a grouchy, green-furred monster that lives inside an old-school metal trash can and loves garbage. Indeed, Oscar is actually a member of a species known as "Grouches," which hail from Grouchland, a location that can be accessed by traveling through Oscar's trash can. If you couldn't already tell, we're fans of 1999's The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland.

“Caroll has been one of the leading lights of Sesame Street from the very beginning,” said Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of Sesame Workshop. “His genius and his talent made Big Bird the most beloved yellow feathered friend across the globe. But the sheer artistry of Caroll is that he also brought Oscar to life and made him the most lovable Grouch in the world.”

Spinney was also the subject of a 2014 documentary, I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story, which explored his long-running tenure on the kid-friendly franchise.

“Since 1969, Caroll’s kind and loving view of the world has helped shape and define this institution,” said Jeffrey D. Dunn, Sesame Workshop’s president and CEO. “Throughout his unparalleled career, Caroll Spinney gave something truly special to the world. With deepest admiration, Sesame Workshop is proud to carry his legacy — and his beloved characters — into the future.”

The 49th season of Sesame Street is set to premiere on Nov. 17. According to the Sesame Street website, the roles of Bird Bird and Oscar will be handled by Matt Vogel (current voice of Kermit and Count von Count) and Eric Jacobson (current voice of Grover, Bert, Guy Smiley, Fozzie Bear, and Miss Piggy), respectively.

“Before I came to Sesame Street, I didn’t feel like what I was doing was very important. Big Bird helped me find my purpose,” Spinney added. “Even as I step down from my roles, I feel I will always be Big Bird. And even Oscar, once in a while! They have given me great joy, led me to my true calling — and my wonderful wife! — and created a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever.”