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‘Sesame Street’ Puppeteer Caroll Spinney Dies From Muscle Disorder At 85

Sesame Street's Big Bird and puppeteer Caroll Spinney, Right Caroll With Oscar The Grouch
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Dec. 9 2019, Updated 7:53 p.m. ET

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Sesame Street has lost a legend. As has learned, Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who played Big Bird and voiced Oscar the Grouch for nearly 50 years, has died.

Spinney died on Sunday, December 8, in his Connecticut home after years of battling dystonia, a disorder that affects a person’s muscles, according to a statement from Sesame Workshop. He was 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,” the statement reads. “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.”

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Throughout his decades on the show, Caroll always spoke fondly of his role, even telling The New York Times in 2018, “Playing Big Bird is one of the most joyous things of my life.”

Unfortunately for the star, his condition made the physical requirements of puppeteering difficult for him to maneuver in the last few years, and eventually forced him to stop puppeteering Big Bird in 2015. Still, he provided the voices for him and Oscar until his retirement in October 2018.


“I always thought, how fortunate for me that I got to play the two best Muppets?” Caroll told the NYT.

The beloved puppeteer recorded more than 4,400 episodes as the two characters and was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. Before his death, he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a U.S. postage stamp.

“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,” Sesame Street co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney said in the statement. “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.”

Caroll is survived by his wife of 40 years, Debra Spinney, and his three children.



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