Original ‘Sesame Street’ Legend Caroll Spinney Retiring After 50 Years—And His Iconic Characters Will Never Be The Same ????

Tomorrow will be a sad day for those of us who’ve grown up with the Sesame Street gang over the last 50 years—as it will be the last day that one Mr. Carroll Spinney, the puppeteer responsible for such beloved characters as the soft-hearted Big Bird and the irascible Oscar the Grouch, will hit the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Astoria, Queens (where Sesame Street is currently filmed) for a little voice work on his last day before retiring.

Spinney, now 84 years old, was hand-picked by Jim Henson himself back in 1969—his retirement coincides with the 50th anniversary of the show. A Sesame Street spokeswoman told the New York Times he has likely filmed ” . . . thousands of the more than 4,400 episodes that have been created.”

As Spinney (who has been with Sesame Street since it first began) tells the whirlwind story on the SesameWorkshop.org website, Henson put him in the driver’s seat creatively with his new characters right from the start:

Jim Henson saw me doing my own puppet show and came backstage afterwards and asked if I wanted to join the Muppets. As a puppeteer I felt the Muppets were the Beatles of the puppet world. Jim said he wanted to build a goofy bird and also Oscar the Grouch, which was going to be a goofy purple thing that lived in a pile of trash. On the very first show the writers gave a two minute period to say hello to Big Bird. I said, “What’s Big Bird like?” And Jim said, “I don’t know, what do you want him to be like?”

Fans everywhere expressed gratitude and love for Spinney and Sesame Street as the news of his retirement spread:

Jeffrey Dunn, president and chief executive of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit education organization that produces Sesame Street, told the NYTimes:

  Big Bird has always had the biggest heart on Sesame Street, and that’s Caroll’s gift to us. I think it’s fair to say that Caroll’s view of the world and how we should treat each other has shaped and defined our organization.

Not unlike the Big Bird character himself, Spinney’s gratitude and heart were on display when he told the New York Times:

 I always thought, how fortunate for me that I got to play the two best Muppets? Playing Big Bird is one of the most joyous things of my life.

Spinney’s last voice recordings will be used during Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary celebration episodes, scheduled to premiere next year on HBO and in 2020 on PBS. His apprentice, Matt Vogel, will be succeeding him in the role of Big Bird.

His contributions to the tender lives of children will never be forgotten.

H/T: UPROXX, The New York Times, Twitter