Caroll Spinney has been a television mainstay since 1969, but her face has rarely made an appearance.
Disguised in a bright yellow feather robe and orange beak, the “Sesame Street” puppeteer was the heart and soul behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since the show premiered nearly 50 years ago.
Now, at the age of 84, Spinney has told The New York Times that he is retiring from “Sesame Street” after nearly half a century of playing some of the show’s most iconic characters. On Thursday, Spinney will enter Sesame Street Studios in Astoria, Queens, for the last time before stepping down from the roles forever.
“Before coming 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. I leave my roles, I feel that I will always be Big Bird. And even Oscar, from time to time! They gave me great joy, led me to my true calling – and to my wonderful wife! – and created a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever.
Spinney said the physical demands for the show have become increasingly difficult in recent years. As of 2015, he left the Big Bird costume after developing a balance issue in the costume, and has since only provided voices for the character. His latest voice recordings will be used at the upcoming 50th anniversary next year on HBO.
Longtime puppeteers Matt Vogel, who plays Kermit the Frog, and Eric Jacobson, who plays Miss Piggy, reprise the roles of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.