Caroll Spinney, Celebrated Sesame Street Puppeteer, Dead at 85

Photo: Chris Polk/DE/2009 Getty Images

Caroll Spinney, who spent half a century delighting families as the puppeteer (or rather, “Muppeteer”) behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street, has died at the age of 85. A statement from Sesame Workshop confirmed the news, stating that he passed away in his home on Sunday morning after a multiyear battle with dystonia. “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,” the statement read, in part. “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.”

Throughout his tenured Sesame Street career — which came at the recommendation of fellow puppet hero, Jim Henson — Spinney filmed thousands of episodes, recorded hundreds of albums, and conducted dozens of symphony orchestras as Big Bird or Oscar the Grouch. It was only last year when he decided to retire, citing health reasons. “Playing Big Bird,” he said at the time, “is one of the most joyous things of my life.”

Caroll Spinney, Sesame Street Puppeteer, Dead at 85