Caroll Spinney, The Voice Of Sesame Street’s Big Bird, Has Died At 85

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Caroll Spinney/Instagram

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One of the most beloved voices of our childhoods has died. Caroll Spinney, who was the voice behind Sesame Street‘s oversized whole-body puppet Big Bird, died at his home in Woodstock, Connecticut, on Sunday after living for some time with dystonia, which causes involuntary muscle contractions. He was 85.

Joining “Sesame Street” for its first season in 1969, Spinney wasn’t only the voice of Big Bird, but the personality. For nearly 50 years, 5-foot-10-inch-tall Spinney brought 8-foot-2-inch-tall Big Bird puppet to life, completely enclosed within the costume. To operate Big Bird, the puppeteer had to “extend his right hand over his head to operate the head and neck of the puppet. The left hand serves as the Bird’s left wing, while the right wing is stuffed and hangs loosely from a fishing line that runs through a loop under the neck and attaches to the wrist of the left hand. The right hand thus does the opposite of the left hand: as the left hand goes down, the right hand is pulled up by the fishing line.”

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Spinney was also the voice of Sesame Street‘s resident pessimist, Oscar the Grouch.

The news of Spinney’s death was shared by Sesame Street on social media Sunday. In the post, Spinney was remembered as a man with an “outsized heart” who brought joy to fans around the world.

“Caroll’s kind and loving view of the world helped 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,” the post reads. “In these characters, Caroll Spinney gave something truly special to the world. With deepest admiration, Sesame Workshop is proud to carry his legacy – and his beloved characters – into the future. Our hearts go out to his beloved wife, Debra, and all of his children and grandchildren. We will miss him dearly.”

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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. Since 1969, Caroll’s kind and loving view of the world helped 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. With deepest admiration, Sesame Workshop is proud to carry his legacy – and his beloved characters – into the future. Our hearts go out to his beloved wife, Debra, and all of his children and grandchildren. We will miss him dearly.

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Caroll Spinney and his first wife, Janice, had three children, Jessica, Melissa and Ben, and divorced in 1971. Eight years later, he married Debra Jean Gilroy, who was working for the Children’s Television Workshop when they met in 1972. He is survived by his second white, three children and several grandchildren.

Over the course of his five-decade career, Spinney was honored with six Daytime Emmys, two Grammys, a Library of Congress Living Legend Award in 2000 and a Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 2006.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Caroll Spinney’s loved ones.