Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer behind Sesame Street’s Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, died yesterday at his home in Connecticut. Spinney, who began puppeteering in 1955, played the iconic Big Bird from the character’s inception in 1969 until 2018.
Predictably, for someone who touched so many people’s childhoods over a span of five decades, the tributes have been flying for this legend in puppeteering.
Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization behind Sesame Street, wrote on its website that 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.”
Sesame Street co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney wrote, “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.”
She continued: “We at Sesame Workshop mourn his passing and feel an immense gratitude for all he has given to Sesame Street and to children around the world.”
The Muppets’ Twitter account tweeted how “Caroll Spinney filled all of our lives with joy, laughter, and learning.”
Whether as a Big Bird filled with wonder or a grouch named Oscar filled with complaints, Caroll Spinney filled all of our lives with joy, laughter and learning. Forever in our hearts. pic.twitter.com/eZmneUMXmJ
— The Muppets (@TheMuppets) December 8, 2019
Matt Vogel, who has played Big Bird since 2002, tweeted about how he would be thinking of his friend at the Kennedy Center Honors as he donned the Big Bird costume last night.
Tonight, at the Kennedy Center Honors, I will be wearing these famous bird’s legs and thinking about my friend and mentor, Caroll Spinney. Caroll taught me to keep an innocence and childlike quality alive—not only in Big Bird, but in myself. Thank you, Caroll. @sesamestreet pic.twitter.com/sbxJzMIQqN
— Matt Vogel (@welcomemattv) December 8, 2019
All the puppeteers who attended the Kennedy Center Honors in D.C. on Sunday night wore yellow lapels to commemorate Spinney.
Celebrities also tweeted their condolences; Tom Bergeron, host of Dancing With The Stars tweeted “RIP Caroll Spinney” with a picture of himself, Spinney and Oscar the Grouch.
RIP Caroll Spinney 😢 pic.twitter.com/fyDAJFMYFR
— Tom Bergeron (@Tom_Bergeron) December 8, 2019
Politicians also honored the legendary puppeteer with tweets from Elizabeth Warren and New York Mayor, Bill de Blasio.
Caroll Spinney was a beloved friend to millions of children & families who never knew his name — and a beloved son of Waltham & Acton, MA. My thoughts are with Mr. Spinney’s family & the entire @SesameStreet community. His voice lives on in all of us. https://t.co/mdfS7j68up
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) December 9, 2019
Generations of children learned kindness, compassion and friendship from Caroll Spinney — and his characters embodied the heart of our city.
On behalf of 8.6 million New Yorkers, I offer our condolences to his family, friends and everyone who knew and loved him. https://t.co/rVCKRKWglu
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) December 8, 2019
Many others also took to Twitter to thank Spinney for decades of entertainment and to lament the passing of a piece of their childhood.
— Mickey// (@insanitysrevolt) December 8, 2019
A cause of death has not been announced. It is alleged that Spinney had been suffering from Dystonia, a movement disorder, for a long time. He is survived by his wife, Debra.
RIP Carroll Spinney.