If you grew up watching PBS shows, then you probably sang along as a certain popular theme song played, “Sunny days, sweeping the clouds away, on my way to where the air is sweet. Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street.”
“Sesame Street” has played a crucial role in millions of young children’s lives since its premiere in 1969. It would be hard to imagine the show without such iconic characters as Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Count von Count (ah ha ha), Mr. Snuffleupagus, and Oscar the Grouch.
While the show has had various puppeteers come and go since the beginning of its 49-year-run on public television, only a few people have been a part of “Sesame Street” in its entirety; one of whom is Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who brought both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life.
Sadly, however, the beloved show just announced that Spinney has decided to step down and shared that his iconic roles have been passed on to two talented performers who are devoted to carry on his legacy.
“Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind and nurtured my soul,” Spinney said in a statement. “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 had fostered his love and craft of performing as a puppeteer from a young age. He even used money collected from his performances to pay his college tuition!
After serving in the Air Force, he entered back into the world of puppeteering and eventually became a professional in both Las Vegas and Boston in the 1950s and 1960s. That is, until he met Jim Henson in 1962.
“When Henson was creating the Muppets of “Sesame Street,” Spinney’s unique combination of talent and heart proved to be perfect for the new show’s larger-than-life bird,” the press release explained.
During his time on the show, Spinney helped develop the vibrant, caring and curious big yellow bird the world loved instantly and the grimy, sometimes grumpy Grouch we all learned to love. It’s almost impossible to separate the man from the two characters that he so brilliantly brought to life.
As Big Bird, Spinney has been able to travel the world visiting countries such as China, Japan, Australia, France, Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom. Big Bird has danced with the Rockettes, been the subject of a U.S. postage stamp and been honored on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was also named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2000.
Spinney even met his wife on the set of “Sesame Street!
His achievements off screen are just as impressive as those on-screen. The statement from the Sesame Workshop shared some of those achievements:
“He co-authored and illustrated his autobiography, ‘The Wisdom of Big Bird.’ He holds four honorary doctorates, and is a passionate lecturer. He holds a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award, six Emmys, two Gold Records and two Grammy honors. He is the 2003 recipient of the ‘Legacy for Children Award,’ and The Christopher’s James Keller Award in 2004. His life and career have been documented in the widely-acclaimed 2014 film, ‘I Am Big Bird.'”
There’s no doubt that this man has made an impact on millions of children’s lives and his talent will be severely missed.
“Caroll has been one of the leading lights of Sesame Street from the very beginning,” Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of Sesame Workshop, said. “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.”
Because the show just wouldn’t be the same without Spinney’s “alter egos,” Spinney has trained up two skilled puppeteers to take over both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, two people who Spinney has personally mentored for over 20 years.
Big Bird will be performed by Matt Vogel, who also plays Count von Count for the show and Kermit the Frog for the Disney Muppets. Oscar the Grouch will be played by Eric Jacobson, an Emmy-nominated puppeteer who performs as Grover, Bert and Guy Smiley on “Sesame Street” and Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy for the Disney Muppets.
“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. “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 my wonderful wife! – and created a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever.”
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