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Caroll Spinney death: Sesame Street’s Big Bird puppeteer dies aged 85

US puppeteer Caroll Spinney, famous for playing Sesame Street‘s Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch has died aged 85.

The actor passed away at his home in Connecticut after living with the movement disorder dystonia, a Sesame Workshop statement said.

Spinney had portrayed the characters through his puppeteering skills and voice overs since the show’s start in 1969.

He had retired last year at the age of 84.

“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,” the statement said.

“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,” the show’s co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney said on Sunday.

With Spinney inside the puppet of Big Bird, the character danced with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, sang at Carnegie Hall, passed out Emmys, appeared on the cover of Time magazine and toured China with Bob Hope.

He performed with everyone from Johnny Cash to Michael Jackson.

Spinney’s career inside the Big Bird costume was portrayed in the 2015 documentary “I Am Big Bird.”

The film covered some of his darker moments, including suicidal thoughts after his first wife left him and took their kids, and the jealousy he felt when the character Elmo became more popular than Big Bird.

United: Caroll Spinney and Big Bird (AP Photo/Sesame Workshop, Eddie Adams)

The beloved Big Bird was a fluffy pear-shaped mass of yellow-dyed turkey feathers set atop spindly legs and standing more than 8 feet tall.

At first he was a dim-witted goof but Spinney developed him into a character whom children could relate to.

He took on the sensibilities of a 6-year-old who was learning letters and numbers just like the young viewers who adored him.

Big Bird was often flustered but persevered with the help of his neighbours on Sesame Street, where puppet creatures and humans lived side by side.

Spinney also gave life to Big Bird’s antithesis, Oscar the Grouch, the furry green creature who offered his curmudgeonly views on the goings-on on Sesame Street.

Oscar lived in a garbage can and sang about his love of trash – “anything dirty or dingy or dusty, anything ragged or rotten or rusty.”

Spinney said the gravelly voice he gave Oscar was an imitation of the tough-talking New York cab driver who took Spinney to the studio the day he was to debut the character.

Spinney grew up in Acton, Massachusetts, and developed his interest in puppets as a child. He said he never had a desire to be seen by the audience.

He pursued puppetry in his spare time while in the Air Force by starting a kids’ show for a Las Vegas television station. Once back in Boston, he was part of the “Bozo the Clown Show” before Henson brought him to Sesame Street.

Spinney credited his 1979 marriage to Debra Gilroy, who worked for the company that produced “Sesame Street,” for turning his life around. 


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