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.”
Long-time puppeteer Caroll Spinney has announced that he is stepping down from the roles of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Spinney is pleased that his iconic roles will be carried on by puppeteers Matt Vogel and Eric Jacobson. Learn more: https://t.co/BALgkIPI5q pic.twitter.com/sGMDjqLklQ
— Sesame Street (@sesamestreet) October 17, 2018
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?”
There is a lot of bittersweet in my soul right now.
I first set foot on the “Sesame Street” set 25 years ago.
We started shooting Season 50 on Monday.
Caroll Spinney’s retirement celebration is tomorrow.
Also, the world.
So this is all you’ll be hearing from me this week.
— Stephanie D'Abruzzo (@DAbruzzoTweets) October 17, 2018
Fans everywhere expressed gratitude and love for Spinney and Sesame Street as the news of his retirement spread:
I think I say from every child, adult, parent and human being. Thank you Caroll!! 1969 – 2018… 49 beautiful years of your passion and work. What a legacy to be a part of. ❤️
— Mark Iddon (@markiddon) October 17, 2018
I wish Mr. Spinney all the best in his retirement. He is a massive piece of my childhood. Follow That Bird holds a special place in my heart.
— Nick Ardill (@Nick_Ardill) October 17, 2018
Thank you #CarollSpinney for making the world a better place, for impacting so many lives with your vision, imagination & brilliance. Thank you for making #BigBird & Sesame Street what they are today. & thank you, #JimHenson for seeing the potential in this amazing person.
— Amy Moe (@amymoe35) October 17, 2018
I always dug Big Bird's big eyes and slow methodic speech. Caroll Spinney created a character I could trust and, as an autistic child, connect with.
I will always remeber this man who–having never met me–implanted himself in my psyche and gave my tendrils scaffolding to grow.
— Jenny V #PunchNazis (@JennyVSimile) October 17, 2018
Caroll Spinney is a genius who has entertained generations of children – and helped to educate them along the way.
If that doesn't establish him as one of the greatest entertainers of all time, I don't know what does.
Thank you, sir, from the bottom of millions of hearts.
— Bob Smith (@RCSmithNYC) October 17, 2018
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.
He lived in a town where I once worked. He would always make time for people who approached him in public. A sweet man.
— Natasha Greczkowski (@TashaSki) October 17, 2018
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.
“I'll crouch down small, 'cause you're my most important friend.”
This week, after 50 years of performing #BigBird and #Oscar on #SesameStreet, #CarollSpinney is retiring. Thank you, Caroll for all the light you've brought into the world — sunny days are still ahead. pic.twitter.com/Aix1qoDvvB
— Cam Garrity (@camgarrity) October 17, 2018
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.