For nearly 50 years, Caroll Spinney has played the iconic Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. This week will be his last on the set, however — and the roles will be passed to new performers.
In 2015, the now 84-year-old Spinney stopped puppeteering the characters due to the physical strain, but he continued to lend his voice. Taking up the roles of Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird will be Matt Vogel, Spinney’s protege since 1996, who also filled the parts of Kermit the Frog and Count Von Count. Though Spinney will be saying goodbye to the characters he’s played for the past half-century, recordings of his voice will be used for the upcoming 50th anniversary of Sesame Street (airing next year on HBO and in 2020 on PBS).
The first takes of Big Bird imagined the character as more of a “a funny, dumb country yokel,” but Spinney told the New York Times that he suggested making Big Bird more childlike, so that he could learn along with the kids. It’s this inquisitive, gentle approach that made Big Bird one of the staples of Sesame Street and an important part of many people’s lives, including Spinney’s.
“Playing Big Bird is one of the most joyous things of my life,” Spinney said.
Spinney is one of the last remaining original Sesame Street members still working on the show. He doesn’t intend to forget the impact of Sesame Street anytime soon.
“I’ll be 100 years old, doing Muppet stuff,” he said.