Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch Puppeteer Caroll Spinney Retires After Nearly 50 Years on ‘Sesame Street’

“I feel like I will always be Big Bird,” says Spinney, who joined the show in 1969

Last Updated: October 17, 2018 @ 7:38 AM

Puppeteer Caroll Spinney is hanging up his feathers after bringing beloved “Sesame Street” character Big Bird to life for nearly 50 years.

The cast member of the long-running children’s show is also the man behind Oscar the Grouch. Spinney, 84, joined “Sesame Street” in 1969 when the series was in its inaugural season and has been performing on it ever since.

The production announced that Matt Vogel and Eric Jacobson will replace Spinney in the roles.

“Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind and nurtured my soul,” Spinney in a statement Wednesday on the Sesame Workshop website. “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.

“Even as I step down from my roles, I feel I will always be Big Bird. And even Oscar, once in a while!” he said, noting that he met his wife of 45 years, Debra, on the “Sesame Street” set in 1973. “They have given me great joy, led me to my true calling — and my wonderful wife! — and created a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever.”

As Big Bird, Spinney visited China with Bob Hope in 1979. He’s danced with the Rockettes, and with prima ballerina Cynthia Gregory. He’s been feted with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, celebrated with his likeness on a U.S. postage stamp, and named a “Living Legend” in 2000 by the Library of Congress.

He has performed on hundreds of episodes of television, starred as his big yellow avatar in the feature film “Follow That Bird,” and conducted symphony orchestras throughout the United States, Australia and Canada.

“Caroll has been one of the leading lights of ‘Sesame Street’ from the very beginning,” said Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of Sesame Workshop. “His genius and his talent made Big Bird the most beloved yellow feathered friend across the globe. But the sheer artistry of Caroll is that he also brought Oscar to life and made him the most lovable Grouch in the world.”

Spinney says he now plans to be an ambassador for Sesame Workshop. “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,” he added.