Actor Behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch Retires After 50 Years

Say goodbye to the man who has been with Sesame Street since episode one. 

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- Posted on Oct 19, 2018

Carroll Spinney with Oscar the Grouch puppet

Caroll Spinney, the man who brought Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life, is retiring. 

Spinney has been the puppeteer behind the beloved characters since Sesame Street's first episode. Almost fifty years later, Spinney, now 84 years old, still loves the puppets he portrayed. 

"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," Vogel said in an interview with the New York Times.

The puppet work for Big Bird was some of the most physically demanding on the show. The costume is more than eight feet tall and required Spinney to hold his hand over his head to operate the mouth. Spinney stopped operating the Big Bird puppet a few years ago, but has continued to record the voice for the character.

It all started 49 years ago when Spinney met series creator Jim Henson at a puppeteering festival. Spinney played a crucial role in developing Big Bird's character. At first, Spinney was instructed to play the bird as an unintelligent, country bumpkin. Just a few episodes in, Spinney asked if he could change course. 

“I said, I think I should play him like he’s a child, a surrogate,” he said. “He can be all the things that children are. He can learn with the kids.”

With this change, Big Bird became the loveable main character fans have related to for years. 

Matt Vogel, who has been an apprentice on the show for more than 20 years, will take over the role of Big Bird. 

“The more I do the character, the more that I try to preserve what I think Caroll’s intentions were,” Vogel told the Times. “Inevitably, part of our own personality starts to creep into those characters. But that’s the way they live on.”

As he enters a new phase of life, Spinney is grateful for his time on the show.  

"Before I came to Sesame Street, I didn't feel like what I was doing was very important. Big Bird helped me find my purpose," Spinney said according to NPR. "Even as I step down from my roles, I feel I will always be Big Bird. And even Oscar, once in a while!"

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