Today truly marks the end of an era. Caroll Spinney, the actor who has portrayed Big Bird since the very first episode of Sesame Street, has announced that he is retiring from the role. Spinney debuted as the lovable yellow bird during the landmark children's show during its first season in 1969. In addition to his role as Big Bird, he's also played the trash can-dwelling Oscar the Grouch. Those roles will now be carried on by two new puppeteers who will have some very big shoes to fill. Spinney had this to say in a statement.
"Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind and nurtured my soul. 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."
Caroll Spinney developed his love of puppeteering at an early age. His life was forever changed when, by chance, he met Jim Henson at a puppetry festival in 1962. Once Henson started designing the characters for Sesame Street, he turned to Spinney and the rest, as they say, is history. Jeffrey D. Dunn, Sesame Workshop's President and CEO, had this to say in a statement.
"Since 1969, Caroll's kind and loving view of the world has helped shape and define this institution. Throughout his unparalleled career, Caroll Spinney gave something truly special to the world. With deepest admiration, Sesame Workshop is proud to carry his legacy, and his beloved characters, into the future."
There are few performers, in any medium, that can say that they've carried on the same role for five decades. And in Caroll Spinney's case, for nearly 4,500 episodes. Far fewer can claim that they've had the tremendous impact that someone like Spinney has had on generations. There are people now old enough to be grandparents who grew up watching him as Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch who may now be watching their young grandchildren do the very same thing. That's nothing shy of incredible.
Big Bird, puppet or not, is as recognizable as they come as far as pop culture icons go. But few icons of that level have had the positive impact that this character, thanks to Spinney's work, has had. Spinney, for his troubles, has been decorated with many honors over the years. This includes four honorary doctorates, a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award, six Emmys, two Gold Records and two Grammys. He was also the 2003 recipient of the "Legacy for Children Award," and The Christopher's James Keller Award in 2004. Spinney had this to add.
"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! 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 for who will be taking over the roles? Big Bird will be performed by Matt Vogel, who serves as Puppet Captain on Sesame Street and performs Count von Count on the show, in addition to performing as Kermit the Frog for The Muppets. Oscar the Grouch will be performed by Eric Jacobson, who also performs Grover, Bert, and Guy Smiley for Sesame Street, as well as Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy for The Muppets. You can also check out a tribute video from the Sesame Street gang to Caroll Spinney for yourself below. This news comes to us from the Sesame Workshop.