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Sesame Street Puppeteer Dead at 85

Caroll Spinney was the force behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 8, 2019 2:00 PM CST
Sesame Street's Big Bird and puppeteer Caroll Spinney participate in the ceremonial lighting of the Empire State Building in honor of Sesame Street's 50th anniversary on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, in New York.   (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
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(Newser) – Caroll Spinney, who gave Big Bird his warmth and Oscar the Grouch his growl for nearly 50 years on Sesame Street, died Sunday at the age of 85 at his home in Connecticut, according to the Sesame Workshop. The Sesame Workshop said in a statement that the legendary puppeteer lived for some time with dystonia, which causes involuntary muscle contractions, the AP reports. Spinney voiced and operated the two major Muppets from their inception in 1969 when he was 36, and performed them almost exclusively into his 80s on the PBS kids’ television show that later moved to HBO. "Before I came to Sesame Street, I didn't feel like what I was doing was very important," Spinney said when he announced his retirement in 2018. "Big Bird helped me find my purpose."

Through his two characters, Spinney gained huge fame that brought international tours, books, record albums, movie roles, and visits to the White House. "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 Sesame Workshop said. But he never became a household name. "I may be the most unknown famous person in America," Spinney said in his 2003 memoir. "It's the bird that's famous." To colleagues there was no question which character the kindly Spinney resembled. "Big Bird is him and he is Big Bird," said former Sesame Street head writer Norman Stiles.

(Read more obituary stories.)

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