Caroll Spinney, the Sesame Street legend known for voicing and puppeteering the iconic characters of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, has sadly passed away at the age of 85. Spinney retired from the show last fall after nearly 50 years.
His death was confirmed by the Sesame Workshop website, which revealed that he passed on today at his home in Connecticut after suffering from Dystonia.
"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," reads the blog post. "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, who was originally hired and mentored by the late Jim Henson, cultivated a career that would make him an instantly recognizable icon throughout the globe. Thanks to his pal Big Bird, Caroll visited China with Bob Hope, danced with the Rockettes, and even received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
And that's not even mentioning the Big Bird U.S. postage stamp! In a way, the feathered character is pretty much the Mickey Mouse-esque mascot of the educational TV program.
"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 once told Biography.com about his early Sesame Street days. "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."
"I think there's just an awful lot of me in Big Bird, but Oscar is pretty much — I think I know how he thinks because he thinks exactly the opposite of what I think is a good way to be. So the dark side of me [maybe] once in a while, but mostly it's the opposite side of how I am," he said of the trash can-living Grouch during a 2015 chat with NPR.
Years later, Spinney, who also enjoyed conducting symphony orchestras all over the world, was named a "Living Legend" by the American Library of Congress.
"Caroll Spinney’s contributions to Sesame Street are countless," said the show's co-founder, Joan Ganz Cooney, in a statement. "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 is survived by his wife, children, and grandchildren.