'Sesame Street' Puppeteer Caroll Spinney Dead at 85

He famously played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch
'Sesame Street' Puppeteer Caroll Spinney Dead at 85
Photo via Montclair Film Festival
Beloved Sesame Street puppeteer Caroll Spinney has died following a battle with dystonia. Spinney, who was best known for playing the roles of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, was 85.

Spinney's death was confirmed by Sesame Workshop, who stated he died Sunday (December 8) in his home in Connecticut. Sesame Workshop shared the following statement:

Caroll Spinney, the legendary puppeteer behind beloved Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, died today, December 8th 2019, at age 85 at his home in Connecticut, after living with Dystonia for some time.

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. His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to playing the larger-than-life yellow bird who brought joy to generations of children and countless fans of all ages around the world, and his lovably cantankerous grouch gave us all permission to be cranky once in a while.

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. 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.

Sesame Street co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney said of her longtime colleague and friend, "Caroll Spinney's contributions to Sesame Street are countless. He not only gave us Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, he gave so much of himself as well. We at Sesame Workshop mourn his passing and feel an immense gratitude for all he has given to Sesame Street and to children around the world."

Spinney had retired as a puppeteer in 2015 after appearing in over 4,400 episodes of Sesame Street. He continued to voice Big Bird and Oscar before fully retiring from the show last year.

His work on the show was documented in the 2014 film I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story.