Caroll Spinney, The Actor Behind Big Bird, Has Died Aged 85

by : Julia Banim on : 08 Dec 2019 18:40
Caroll SpinneyCaroll SpinneyPA

Legendary Sesame Street puppeteer Caroll Spinney has died at the age of 85.


Best known as the actor behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, Spinney died December 8, 2019, at his Connecticut home. He had reportedly been suffering from Dystonia for some time.

Spinney leaves behind his wife of 40 years, Debra – who he met on the set of Sesame Street – as well as his children and grandchildren.

Caroll Spinney, the legendary puppeteer behind beloved Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, died…

Posted by Sesame Street on Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sesame Workshop have made the following public statement on Facebook:


Caroll Spinney, the legendary puppeteer behind beloved Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, died today, December 8th 2019, at age 85 at his home in Connecticut, after living with Dystonia for some time.

Since 1969, Caroll’s kind and loving view of the world helped shape and define Sesame Street. His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to playing the larger-than-life yellow bird who brought joy to countless fans of all ages around the world, and his lovably cantankerous grouch gave us all permission to be cranky once in a while.

In these characters, 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. Our hearts go out to his beloved wife, Debra, and all of his children and grandchildren. We will miss him dearly.

as reported by BBC News, Spinney worked as a puppeteer in Las Vegas and Boston in the 1950s and 1960s, before joining Sesame Street’s very first series in 1969.

During his time on the beloved children’s show, Spinney earned two Grammy honours and six Emmy awards, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Emmy award in 2006. He retired just last year at the age of 84.

Writing about his incredible career in The Guardian back in 2015, Spinney spoke fondly about how Big Bird became a ‘worldwide superstar’:


At first, Big Bird wasn’t a major character, and Jim Henson, who developed the characters, said to play him like a goofy yokel from the country.

But it felt more natural to me to play him as a child, like a big kid. When I tried it out, Jim and the writers agreed, and soon Big Bird grew into a worldwide superstar.

Our thoughts are with the family of Caroll Spinney at this difficult time.

If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.

Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: Film and TV, Big Bird, Caroll Spinney, Oscar The Grouch, Sesame Street


BBC News and 2 others
  1. BBC News

    Caroll Spinney: Sesame Street's Big Bird puppeteer dies

  2. The Guardian

    Caroll Spinney, who played Big Bird on Sesame Street, dies aged 85

  3. Sesame Street/Facebook

    Sesame Street/Facebook