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Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch Muppeteer Caroll Spinney Dead at 85

Rodolfo Vieira
Dec 08, 2019
03:07 P.M.
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Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch are two of the most famous and recognizable characters in the history of television, but they would be nothing without Caroll Spinney.

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Spinney was the man that, for almost 50 years, put on the big yellow suit and brought joy to fans of all ages around the world. Sadly, he is no longer with us.

As officially announced by Sesame Workshop, the iconic puppeteer has recently passed away at the age of 85 at his home in Connecticut after living with dystonia for quite some time.

Puppetier Caroll Spinney at the 2012 Monsterpalooza held at Burbank Airport Marriott in Burbank, California | Photo: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

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A LOVE FOR PUPPETS

Born in 1933 in Waltham, Massachusetts, Spinney always had an obsession with puppets, which, unfortunately, made him a target for bullies at school.

After four years of service in the Air Force, Spinney portrayed a number of characters on "Bozo's Big Top," where he was described as a "very creative, wonderful artist" by Frank Avruch aka Bozo the Clown.

Caroll Spinney at the 36th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards at The Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Chris Polk/DE/Getty Images for ATI

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The Puppeteer eventually left the show and caught the Muppets creator Jim Henson's eye during a puppet festival in Salt Lake City. Although his act didn't go as planned, Henson still liked what he saw.

"He not only gave us Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, he gave so much of himself as well."

In 1969, Spinney started working on "Sesame Street," the job that would lead him to greatness as Big Bird and the character's grumpy trash can-dwelling neighbor.

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BECOMING BIG BIRD WAS QUITE HARD

However, operating the suit was far from easy. The puppeteer had to hold the bird's five-pound head above his head with his right arm and operate the mouth with it, using his pinkie to control the eyebrows.

Meanwhile, Spinney's left arm would be inserted in the left wing, which was attached to the right wing as a counterbalance. Spinney would also tape the script inside the claustrophobic suit.

Caroll Spinney as Big Bird with former First Lady of the U.S. Michelle Obama during the third anniversary celebration of the Let's Move! initiative | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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THE EMBODIMENT OF PASSION AND DEDICATION

As aforementioned, the late 85-year-old played the part for almost 50 years, which earned him plenty of acclaims. Joan Ganz Cooney, the co-founder of Sesame Street, said:

"Caroll Spinney’s contributions to Sesame Street are countless. He not only gave us Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, he gave so much of himself as well."

Spinney might have passed but his legacy will live forever in the memories of those who grew up watching Sesame Street. He is survived by his wife, Debra, as well as his children and grandchildren.

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