Caroll Spinney, who gave Big Bird his warmth and Oscar the Grouch his growl for nearly 50 years on “Sesame Street,” died Sunday at the age of 85 at his home in Connecticut, according to the Sesame Workshop.
Spinney, of Woodstock, Connecticut, had been living with Dystonia for some time, according to officials.
Sesame Street posted on Facebook that "since 1969, Caroll's kind and loving view of the world help shape and define Sesame Street."
"His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to playing the larger-than-life yellow bird who brought joy to countless fans of all ages around the world, and his lovably cantankerous grouch gave us all permission to be cranky once in a while. In these characters, Caroll Spinney gave something truly special to the world," the post continued.
Spinney voiced and operated the two major Muppets from their inception in 1969 when he was 36, and performed them almost exclusively into his 80s on the PBS kids’ television show that later moved to HBO.
“Before I came to ‘Sesame Street,’ I didn’t feel like what I was doing was very important,” Spinney said when he announced his retirement in 2018. “Big Bird helped me find my purpose.”
Through his two characters, Spinney gained huge fame that brought international tours, books, record albums, movie roles, and visits to the White House.
Spinney's death occurred on the same day 'Sesame Street' is slated to receive a lifetime award from the Kennedy Center. The co-founders of “Sesame Street,” Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, will accept the award on behalf of the show.
“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 Sesame Workshop said.
Spinney said in 2018 that the physical requirements of performing the characters had become difficult and he developed problems with his balance. He stopped work as a puppeteer for Big Bird in 2015 and only provided the voices for him and Oscar until he retired.