Sesame Street Icon Behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch Caroll Spinney Dead at 85

Caroll Spinney, the legendary puppeteer who brought to life iconic Sesame Street characters such as Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch and thus impacted millions of children's lives for 50 years has died. The official Sesame Street Twitter account made the announcement on Sunday, noting that Spinney had died on Sunday at his home in Connecticut. He was 85.

Spinney was born on December 26, 1933 in Waltham, Massachusetts. Spinney initially met Jim Henson at a puppetry festival in 1962, and when Henson started creating the Muppets for Sesame Street, he brought Spinney in, and ever since he was been at the helm of Big Bird up until his retirement last year.

During his time as Big Bird Spinney -- who actually wore the 8-foot-tall Big Bird costume until 2015 though he provided the voice until his retirement in 2018 -- won five Daytime Emmy Awards for his work on Sesame Street and even received the lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 2006.

“Caroll has been one of the leading lights of Sesame Street from the very beginning,” said Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of Sesame Workshop at the time of Spinney's retirement. “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.”

“Since 1969, Caroll’s kind and loving view of the world has helped shape and define this institution,” said Jeffrey D. Dunn, Sesame Workshop’s President and CEO. “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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"Big Bird has always had the biggest heart on Sesame Street, and that's Caroll's gift to us," president and CEO of Sesame Workshop Jeffrey Dunn told The New York Times in 2018. "I think it's fair to say that Caroll's view of the world and how we should treat each other has shaped and defined our organization."

Spinney, who reportedly suffered from dystonia -- a movement disorder that causes a person's muscles to contract uncontrollably -- is survived by his wife Debra and his three children.