Sesame Street's Original Big Bird Is Saying Goodbye: Caroll Spinney Announces Retirement

Spinney, who played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, has been with the series since 1969

By Chris Harnick Oct 17, 2018 1:30 PMTags
Caroll Spinney, Big BirdGustavo Caballero/Getty Images

It's the end of an era for Sesame Street. Caroll Spinney announced his retirement from the series. Not familiar with the name? You're familiar with his characters: Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.

"Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind and nurtured my soul," said Spinney. "And I plan to be an ambassador for Sesame Workshop for many years to come. After all, we're a family! But now it's time for two performers that I have worked with and respected – and actually hand-picked for the guardianship of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch – to take my alter-egos into their hands and continue to give them life," Spinney, 84, said in a statement.

Spinney has been a puppeteer with Sesame Street since the show premiered in 1969.

Stars on Sesame Street

"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. Even as I step down from my roles, I feel I will always be Big Bird. And even Oscar, once in a while! They have given me great joy, led me to my true calling and created a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever," Spinney said.

Spinney was a puppeteer throughout his childhood and even used some money from his performances to pay for college. After serving in the Air Force, Spinney went on to be a professional puppeteer in Las Vegas before meeting Jim Henson in the 1960s.


"Caroll has been one of the leading lights of Sesame Street from the very beginning," Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of Sesame Workshop, said in a statement. "His genius and his talent made Big Bird the most beloved yellow feathered friend across the globe. But the sheer artistry of Caroll is that he also brought Oscar to life and made him the most lovable Grouch in the world."

Big Bird and Oscar aren't going anywhere. Matt Vogel is taking over the role of Big Bird, he's also Count von Count and Kermit the Frog, and Eric Jacobson will play Oscar the Grouch. Jacobson also performs Grover, Bert, Guy Smiley, Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy. Spinney has worked alongside and mentored Vogel and Jacobson for more than 20 years, Sesame Workshop said.

"Since 1969, Caroll's kind and loving view of the world has helped shape and define this institution," Jeffrey D. Dunn, Sesame Workshop's president and CEO, said in a statement. "Throughout his unparalleled career, 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."

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