After half a century as a puppeteer on Sesame Street, Caroll Spinney has decided it’s time to walk away. On Wednesday, news broke that the 84-year-old has announced his retirement from the long-running children’s program. He’s been with the show since its premiere back in 1969. That’s impressive.
If you weren’t familiar with Spinney by name, you’re surely familiar with two characters he gave life to over the years: Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.
From Sesame Street’s official announcement of the news:
“Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind and nurtured my soul,” said Spinney. “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.”
“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. 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.”
In 2012, Rock Cellar contributor Marshall Ward spoke with Spinney in an exclusive interview about his career, in which he recounted his first experience with Jim Henson:
“It was in June 1962, and he came up to a local high school in Old Sturbridge Village for a puppet festival, for the Boston Guild of Puppeteers of America. I had been aware of his work since 1960, when I first saw his Wilkin’s coffee commercials on television. He came up from New York with 55 minutes of the best live show I’ve ever seen in my life, to this day. I was so humbled by his talents.
He did his wonderful show, then I did my show, and he came back stage afterwards and said, “I like what you’re doing, why don’t you come to New York and talk about the Muppets?” Jim was so soft-spoken and under-spoken, that I just thought he wanted to talk shop.
Seven years later he asked me again in Salt Lake City to “come down to New York and talk about the Muppets, and work for me.” I said to myself, ‘Oh God, that’s what he meant seven years ago!'”
Happy retirement, Caroll!