Big Bird actor, Caroll Spinney, leaves the nest

Big Bird actor, Caroll Spinney, leaves the nest

Faith Patton

The white bearded face of Caroll Edwin Spinney isn’t one that most people would recognize right away but the roles he has played have been regarded as some of the most iconic. He is well-known for his work as a puppeteer; especially being the man behind the curtain when it came to portraying two of the most iconic children’s TV characters — Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street.

However, Spinney threw in the towel and pronounced that he is retiring from Sesame Workshop (the studio that hosts Sesame Street). However, this week he plans on going to the Workshop and recording the voices of alter egos. His roles will be passed on to new performers and his 50 year run is coming to a close.

It was estimated that Spinney recorded 4,400 episodes over the course of his career.

In recent years, the physical requirements that Spinney had to meet in order to perform became too much and had started to develop balance issues. He put aside puppeteering and continued to contribute the voices of Big Bird and Oscar. The 50th anniversary for the show is coming up quickly, which is when Spinney thought it would be most appropriate to take a bow and let the curtain close.

The character of Big Bird is instantly recognizable, appearing on other programs such as “Saturday Night Live”. Spinney said that playing Big Bird welcomed fans who told him all about how the show changed their lives.

He is also known for playing Oscar the Grouch, another instantly recognizable character who is almost the exact opposite of Big Bird. Spinney defended their differences by saying that they were both solitary characters. And it was comfortable for him. He also stated that it was very lonely playing a character like Big Bird and how disconnected he felt.

Matt Vogel has been Spinney’s apprentice since 1996 and will be his successor in playing the part of Big Bird and Oscar. Vogel aims to preserve Spinney’s legacy as Big Bird.

Spinney still holds onto the memory of the bird, having memories littered across his own artwork displayed in his house and memorabilia on the walls. “I didn’t just get to play Big Bird,” he says, “I got to live his life.”