Actor Who Played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for 50 Years, Dies at 85

I still remember watching with sadness as a kid when I saw on Sesame Street that Mr. Hooper had died. The lovingly kind cast of Sesame Street taught the world that death is sad but that it’s an opportunity to celebrate a life. And so, it is with great sadness that we mourne the loss of Caroll Spinney, who played the iconic Sesame Street characters, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for five decades. There’s a huge lump in my throat as I type up this terrible news.

Caroll Spinney was a legendary puppeteer who helped Sesame Street to shape and guide their characters, bringing not just educational opportunities to kids everywhere but also examples of what love and compassion look like. Mr. Spinney was 85, he passed away on December 8th at home in his Connecticut.

Sesame Street Workshop released a statement giving long-time fans a chance to honor and grieve his death. They noted some of his many highlights at Sesame Street, which are impressive and astounding to behold.

“Welcomed to Sesame Street by Jim Henson, Caroll thrived under a mentorship that led to a decades-long great friendship. Caroll’s unparalleled career saw Big Bird visit China with Bob Hope, dance with the Rockettes, be celebrated with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a U.S. postage stamp, and named a ‘Living Legend’ by the Library of Congress,” The release reads.  “A favorite highlight for Caroll was conducting symphony orchestras and performing with them across the United States, Australia, and China, allowing him to personally connect with families everywhere through the music of Sesame Street. Caroll Spinney gave something truly special to the world. With deepest admiration, Sesame Workshop is proud to carry his memory – and his beloved characters – into the future. Our hearts go out to Caroll’s beloved wife, Debra, and all of his children and grandchildren.”

Growing up in the 1980’s I have many fond memories of vintage Sesame Street. My favorite characters were Grover, Big Bird, and Oscar the Grouch. Spinney famously gave life to Oscar the Grouch, a character whose sole mission was to teach kids that having a bad day or negative feelings are totally ok. Oscar was welcomed on Sesame Street as a beloved character just like kids who have feelings that mirror Oscar’s are also welcomed and loved.

On the flip side, Big Bird was the quintessential icon of the trusting innocence of childhood. Big Bird was always upbeat, curious, friendly, and ready to be a wonderful friend to anyone who needed him. As a kid, I always wanted to sit in his nest and be in his bird club.

Spinney leaving this world feels like a tragic loss but Sesame Street Workshop will live on and continue doing their great work to give children everywhere – regardless of what kinds of access to the education they have – a chance to learn and to grow with wholesome programming.

Big Bird is now being played by the puppeteer, Matt Vogel, who recently appeared at the Kennedy Center to help accept an award for The Kennedy Center Honors where Sesame Street was paid tribute for their half-century of incredible work with kids.

Rest in peace, Mr. Spinney. The world loves you and will forever be grateful for your brilliance and compassion.