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kottke.org posts about Carroll Spinney

RIP Carroll Spinney, Puppeteer of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2019

Sad news from Sesame Street: Carroll Spinney, the puppeteer who played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for almost 50 years, died today at age 85.

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. 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 had retired from the show last year, citing health concerns. Here’s a look at how he operated the Big Bird puppet (more here):

Big Bird Inside

Spinney came out with a book in 2003 called The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers and was the subject of a 2015 documentary called I Am Big Bird. Here’s a trailer:

At Sesame Street creator Jim Henson’s memorial service at Cathedral of St. John the Divine after his unexpected death in 1990, Spinney walked out and, in full Big Bird costume, sang “It Ain’t Easy Being Green” in tribute to his friend:

Total silence after he finished…I can’t imagine there was a dry eye in the house after that. Rest in peace, gentle men.

Happy birthday, Big Bird

posted by Aaron Cohen   Mar 20, 2012

Today being the first day of Spring, it is also Big Bird’s birthday. To celebrate, the Sesame Street blog posted an interview with Big Bird creator, Caroll Spinney, who shared anecdotes from BB’s life. Interestingly, Big Bird used to celebrate his 4th birthday, but since he learned how to read, he now celebrates his 6th birthday. And has for quite some time. Dude never seems to age.

Since he couldn’t read or write, he was 4-years-old. By the end, he was writing little poems and stuff, so then he had to be six so he could read. He’s turning six and he always turns six. His birthday came about on a calendar on the early days of the show. Someone decided he should have a birthday and I decided it should be the first day of spring.

Then Spinney brought everyone’s good cheer down a notch by talking about Mr. Hooper.

They said, “Don’t’ you understand? Mr. Hooper has died.” And I said, “Yes, well when is he coming back?” They said, “Don’t you understand? Mr. Hooper is never coming back,” and quickly everyone is moved to tears. It was probably the most sensitive show we have ever done. When we finished there were tears on all the actors’ faces. When I came out of the suit, I had to have a towel because I had been crying.

Lastly, aside from never aging in 40+ years of birthdays, it must be weird to have a birthday on a calendar date that has changed over time. Remember when the first day of Spring was March 21st?

(via Dan Lewis who you might want to check out if you like learning a new thing everyday)