Caroll Spinney, the legendary Muppeteer who performed as Sesame Street‘s lovable Big Bird for five decades as well as the trash-can dwelling Oscar the Grouch, died earlier this month at the age of 85. The Sesame Workshop said he passed while at home after living with dystonia for a while, a disorder that causes involuntary muscle contractions. Indeed, in 2015, the neurological disorder prevented Caroll from performing full-time in the head-to-toe bird suit, and so he retired from his two Sesame Street roles in 2018.

Big Bird is an overgrown anthropomorphic canary who Spinney portrayed as a six-year-old child at heart. Standing at 8-foot 2-inches, the friendly yellow feathered character encourages others to believe in themselves, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, better understand disabilities, be a good sport, and even deal with grief—among other countless life lessons. But Big Bird’s personality was not just an act. Indeed, those who knew Caroll Spinney best describe the pair as two peas in a pod in regards to their caring and nurturing manner.

“Caroll was an artistic genius whose kind and loving view of the world helped shape and define ‘Sesame Street’ from its earliest days in 1969 through five decades, and his legacy here at Sesame Workshop and in the cultural firmament will be unending. His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to playing the larger-than-life yellow bird who brought joy to generations of children and countless fans of all ages around the world,” the nonprofit educational organization said.

“He’s just so respectful and so nice to all the kids, and all that comes across in Big Bird,” Sesame Workshop co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney shared.

“I love playing Oscar,” Caroll once exclaimed about the comedic and cantankerous puppet Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street. “He has a power I never had. He is so different from Big Bird. I can’t believe Jim gave me two such characters that have become iconic and a part of so many people’s [lives] as they were growing up.”

Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, brought Caroll onboard the popular children’s television show in 1969 after seeing him puppeteering two cat characters named Picklepuss and Pop on a local television show in Boston. Henson immediately noted that Caroll was a “very talented performer” and had a “great sense at adlibbing.” Reflecting on the moment when Henson asked him if he was interested in performing as a large flightless bird character, Caroll said it was like “some fellow came up to me, and I was a drummer, and said, ‘I’ve got a little band from Liverpool, would you like to be the drummer?'”

“Jim had said [his work is] about leaving the world a better place than it was when he got here, and I thought that’s a pretty good and decent thing to think,” Caroll recalled. “And I think because of all the hundreds of millions of children who have watched intently on our show, I can feel that I left it probably a little bit better than if Big Bird hadn’t been there and had his suffering and his joy. And I think that’s what I like to call my legacy.”

Caroll co-authored and illustrated his autobiography The Wisdom of Big Bird, and he holds four honorary doctorates. Performing as Big Bird, Caroll traveled the world—bringing the lovable furry character to Japan, China, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In recognition of his contribution as a performer, Caroll was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award, four Emmys, two Gold Records, and two Grammy honors. Also, Caroll received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2000. His life and career were celebrated in the 2014 film I Am Big Bird.

Caroll is survived by his wife, Debra Jean Gilroy, who he met on the set of Sesame Street in 1973, as well as his three children and many grandchildren. As for Big Bird, he lives on through the puppeteer Matt Vogel since 2018.

Caroll Spinney will be missed by his millions of fans for bringing goodness into the world.

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