Puppeteer Caroll Spinney, who brought his beloved to life sesame street Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch characters for nearly 50 years, died Sunday at his home in Connecticut, according to a statement from Sesame Workshop. He was 85 years old.
“His enormous talent and oversized heart were perfectly suited to play the larger-than-life yellow bird who has brought joy to generations of children and countless fans of all ages around the world, and his adorably growl cantankerous has allowed us all to be grumpy once in a while,” the press release read.
Spinney had been controlling the two characters’ puppets since the first season of sesame street in 1969 until 2018 (the show celebrates its 50th anniversary this year). In tribute to his life and work, Newsweek compiled some of Spinney’s notable quotes about his roles on the iconic children’s TV show, as well as some of his characters:
“When I was eight, I bought my first puppet. It was a monkey, and I paid five cents for it. I picked up scrap wood and built myself a puppet theater. I made 32 cents with my first show, which I thought was pretty good, and that’s when I knew I was going to be a puppeteer when I grew up.” (The Guardian, 2015)
“Before coming to Sesame Street, I didn’t feel like what I was doing was very important. Big Bird helped me find my purpose. Even if I quit my roles, I feel like I’ll always be Big Bird. Even Oscar, once in a while! They gave me great joy, led me to my true calling – and my wonderful wife! – and created a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever.” (from a statement in 2018 announcing his retirement)
“I know I don’t own Big Bird, but I own his soul, I can feel it.” (Parade, 2019)
“Oscar is the exact opposite of how I think you should behave. I just see him as a negative view of the positive spirit I have. Big Bird is sweet and kind and also likeable, as children can identify with him even though he looks like such a weird character – 8ft 2in tall, 18in long beak.” (IndieWire, 2015)
“Big Bird went through his kind of very human struggles as a child. No other child character has been so complete and detailed.” (The daily beast, 2015)
“I think there’s a huge amount of me in Big Bird, but Oscar is pretty much – I think I know how he thinks because he thinks the exact opposite of what I think is a good way to be. .” (NPR, 2015)
“I would really be doing something good, maybe even important, if I brought even a little more compassion into the world through Big Bird.” (from Spinney’s 2003 book The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers)
“Bad days happen to everyone, but when one does happen to you, just keep doing your best and never let a bad day make you feel bad about yourself.” (Big bird, New York Post)
“I’m sad because I’m happy / And I’m happy, because I’m crazy / And I’m angry, because it looks crummy / To be happy when you are sad.” (Oscar the Grouch)