Caroll Spinney, original Big Bird, retiring from 'Sesame Street'

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What You Need to Know About Caroll Spinney, the Original Big Bird

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

The man who has played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since “Sesame Street” debuted in 1969 is retiring this week, Sesame Workshop said Wednesday in a news release.

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Caroll Spinney, 84, will perform his roles for the final time Thursday. The puppeteer’s roles will be taken by Matt Vogel, who will perform as Big Bird; and Eric Jacobson, who will play Oscar. Spinney has mentored both men for more than 20 years.

“Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind and nurtured my soul,” said 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.”

During his 49 years on “Sesame Street,” Spinney appeared on “thousands” of the more than 4,400 episodes of the children’s show, a Sesame Workshop spokesman told the The New York Times.

As Big Bird, Spinney has traveled around the world, visiting China with comedian Bob Hope. He has also performed in the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Germany, Canada and Australia. Big Bird has danced with the Rockettes and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The character also has been featured on a U.S. postage stamp and was named a Living Legend in 2000 by the Library of Congress.

“Since 1969, Caroll’s kind and loving view of the world has helped shape and define this institution,” Jeffrey D. Dunn, Sesame Workshop’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “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.”

In October 2012, The Atlantic reported that Spinney made about $314,000 a year in his roles on “Sesame Street.” From a personal standpoint, Spinney met his wife, Debra, on the show’s set in 1973, Sesame Workshop said in its statement. They have been married 45 years, the New York Post reported. 

“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 in a statement. “Even as I step down from my roles, I feel I will always be Big Bird.”

Spinney had to stop puppeteering as Big Bird in 2015 due to problems with his balance, the Times reported. Since then he has limited his roles to voices for Big Bird and Oscar.

His final recordings will be aired on “Sesame Street’s” 50th anniversary in 2020 on PBS, the newspaper reported. Spinney said he will remain a “Sesame Street” ambassador.

“I’ll be 100 years old, doing Muppet stuff,” Spinney told the Times.

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