So many years have passed since Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets who have become such an integral element of the long-running children’s educational program “Sesame Street”, passed away in 1990. Still, his company carried on and became even more successful. Also continuing the path Henson laid out are his longtime associates Frank Oz and Caroll Spinney, who act as puppeteers and voices for many of the most recognizable Muppet characters like Grover, Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird. But the passing of time catches up to all. Oz is semi-retired from Muppet work, and now Spinney is outright retiring.
Fox News has it that Caroll Spinney will be retiring from the role of puppeteer and voice for Big Bird on “Sesame Street”. The Sesame Workshop performer made his announcement on Wednesday, October 17, specifying that his last puppet-work for Big Bird will be a taping of the show the following Thursday. Spinney, now aged 84, has been inside the Big Bird costume since “Sesame Street” started in 1969. He also was also the puppeteer and voice of Oscar the Grouch. With his retirement, puppeteer Matt Vogel, who performs as Kermit the Frog, will also take over as Big Bird.
“I always thought, how fortunate for me that I got to play the two best Muppets?” Spinney noted in a statement regarding his retirement. “Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind and nurtured my soul,” Despite stepping down from performances, Spinney will act as an ambassador for Sesame Workshop saying, “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.”
For his portrayal of Big Bird, who is described as an 8’2’’ tall humanlike canary, Caroll Spinney actually spent TV shooting time in the costume with his dominant hand held up in the air manipulating Big Bird’s head and moving the beak neck, and his arm serving as the long neck. With his advancing age he eventually passed on actual puppeteer duties in 2015, relegating himself only to voice-work for Big Bird and Oscar. But it was both Spinney’s voice and body language that realized Big Bird and is immortalized in the minds of many children around the world who grew up watching “Sesame Street”.
Sesame Workshop president Jeffrey Dunn highly praised Spinney’s work and legacy. “Big Bird has always had the biggest heart on ‘Sesame Street,’ and that’s Caroll’s gift to us,” he said. “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.”
Image courtesy of Hollywood Reporter