The famed puppeteer who’s been playing Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on “Sesame Street” since its debut in 1969 will leave the show this week.
On Thursday, Caroll Spinney, 84, will lend his voice to the two iconic characters one last time before retiring. He will pass on his roles to new performers.
“Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind and nurtured my soul,” said Spinney in a statement. “And I plan to be an ambassador for Sesame Workshop for many years to come. After all, we’re a family! 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.”
A spokesperson for Sesame Workshop told the New York Times that Spinney appeared in thousands of episodes of the more than 4,400 episodes aired. And in 2012, The Atlantic reported that Spinney made about $314,000 a year on the show. Spinney even met his wife of 45 years, Debra, on set in 1973.
“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,” Spinney said. “Even as I step down from my roles, I feel I will always be Big Bird.”
While Spinney had not been considering leaving the show, in 2015, he had to stop puppeteering for Big Bird due to health issues. Since then he’s been providing only voices for Big Bird and Oscar.
His roles have captured the hearts of adults and children alike as well as brought Spinney acclaim throughout the years.
Spinney has four honorary doctorates, a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award, six other Emmys, two Gold Records and two Grammy honors. His life and career were showcased in the 2014 documentary film “I Am Big Bird.”
His final recordings will be aired on “Sesame Street’s” 50th anniversary in 2020 on PBS.