Big Bird Puppeteer Spinney Steps Down

Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who gives life to Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street, is stepping down. Spinney has performed the roles since the show premiered in 1969.

“Caroll has been one of the leading lights of Sesame Street from the very beginning,” said Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of Sesame Workshop. “His genius and his talent made Big Bird the most beloved yellow feathered friend across the globe. But the sheer artistry of Caroll is that he also brought Oscar to life and made him the most lovable Grouch in the world.”

After serving in the Air Force, Spinney performed as a puppeteer in Las Vegas and Boston in the 1950s and 1960s, meeting Jim Henson at a puppetry festival in 1962. When Henson was creating the Muppets of Sesame Street, he called on Spinney to pitch in.

“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.”

The role of Big Bird will be performed by Matt Vogel, Sesame Street’s puppet captain. 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.

Spinney co-authored and illustrated the autobiography The Wisdom of Big Bird and his life and career were documented in the 2014 film, I Am Big Bird. He has six Emmys.

“Since 1969, Caroll’s kind and loving view of the world has helped shape and define this institution,” said Jeffrey D. Dunn, Sesame Workshop president and CEO. “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.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.