Culture

Who Is Caroll Spinney? Original Big Bird Puppeteer Retires After 50 Years on 'Sesame Street'

The man behind Sesame Street’s most iconic bird is retiring. Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer responsible for the voices of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, announced he would step down from both roles on Wednesday.

“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. 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 created a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever,” Spinney said in a statement, released by Sesame Street’s Twitter account.

Spinney has portrayed both Big Bird and Oscar since Sesame Street first premiered in 1969. While Sesame Workshop—the educational nonprofit that produces the children’s show—couldn’t give a specific number of episodes Spinney has appeared in, a spokeswoman for the organization told New York Times he’s likely been featured in thousands of the more than 4,400 episodes that have aired since Sesame Street’s inception.

The 84-year-old is set to hand the puppets down to new talent—his replacements have yet to be revealed—after he spends the next few days traveling to Sesame Street studios in Queens, New York, to lay down the last of his voiceovers, New York Times reported.

Spinney discontinued puppeteering Big Bird in 2015 but went on to provide voices for the beloved character and Oscar in the meantime. He told the Times the physical requirements of performing over the last few years had become more challenging as he struggled to maintain his balance.

Spinney was familiar with Sesame Street’s creator Jim Henson in the 1960s but it wasn’t until Henson saw a rather unsuccessful performance Spinney gave at a Salt Lake City puppeteers’ festival in 1969 when he offered him a job on Sesame Street, which was in development at the time. Spinney remembered Henson approaching him after his set and saying, “I liked what you were trying to do.”

Since his debut, Big Bird has remained one of the most popular figures on Sesame Street. The eight-foot bird even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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