Earlier this week we sent out an invitation to all Muppet fans who wanted to submit a tribute to Caroll Spinney, the legendary Muppet performer who passed away earlier this week. We were overwhelmed with responses, so we’ve broken them up in to two posts. Tomorrow’s tributes include a multitude of artwork that was sent in to us. Thanks to everybody who sent something in.
The story I have about the time I met Caroll Spinney is hardly worth telling. Why? Because it’s too similar to everyone else’s story about Caroll, and all stories about this man share the same ending: he was kind. As far as I’m concerned, however, such a moral bears repeating.
I was at a screening of I Am Big Bird in June, 2014. This was before the wide release, so the makers of the film were touring it around with different audiences, and I was able to see it when it came to Washington D.C. This particular screening (a semi-finished cut of the film that contained a small number of scenes that we probably won’t see ever again) was followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers and with Caroll and Deb (and Oscar). Now, I was much younger five years ago –– I am now a mature, thoughtful, well-rounded person in his mid-20s, but at the time, I was an obsessive teenager with a million questions. I surely asked a complicated two-part question during the Q&A, like a jerk, and then was annoying enough to ask Oscar a question when Caroll was doing photos with fans.
It was great seeing Caroll treated as a celebrity, but remarkably, not as many people were interested in getting photos with or talking with Deb, even though we had all just watched a movie about her. I must have mentioned to her that I was hoping he would have time to sign my copy of The Wisdom of Big Bird, but it didn’t look likely since he was still surrounded by a mob of photographers and didn’t have a table set up to sign things. (He had also just sat through his bazillionth viewing of I Am Big Bird, because Caroll reliably sat in the theater and watched the whole movie with the audience every single time they showed it at every stop on their tour, largely out of respect for the people who made it, but also, I think, because he found it emotionally moving.) Still, Deb assured me that, if I stuck around, Caroll would wait until everyone who wanted something signed got it signed. Indeed, Caroll stayed as long as it took to make everyone there happy, and I think I was the last one still hoping for his signature that evening, but that didn’t stop him from taking the time to draw a cartoon of Big Bird in the book for me, unprompted. He also took another dumb question I asked him, so by the end of the night, I knew all I needed to know about whether or not Bruno would ever be rebuilt and if Caroll had gotten a computer yet (no and no, but now you know, so you’re welcome).
See? Not a story that’s especially interesting on its own, but when you count up the number of stories about Caroll that you’ll find on this page and others across the web this month, you’ll find that, together, they tell a story that’s truly remarkable. It’s the story of a man who played the most iconic and beloved children’s character since Mickey without ever gaining a shred of ego. While I hope his immense talent as a performer will never be overlooked, I want it remembered that what enabled Caroll to touch the lives of children of all ages and generations was his heart of gold. Thanks, Caroll –– thanks from everyone.
The British Correspondant
Even though Sesame Street in the main disappeared from TV in the UK years ago, we Brits still love the eccentric personalities and bright colours of the characters. At a time when our country feel very divided, I keep thinking about how Caroll Spinney portrayed Oscar as someone so different from those around him, with different interests and outlook, but so comfortable in the community, so accepted and understood in his grouchyness, trash loving and isolated nature. Every life matters and the trickle effect of sharing our lives of kindness with others will never truely be counted.
I was very sad to hear Caroll has passed away, I’ve been a Jim henson/Sesame Street fan since I was very young I always loved big bird and Oscar the Grouch.
Sesame Street and Jim Henson got me through a lot during my life and have shown me that no matter what, you will always be special and loved.
Thank you Caroll for everything, and now you are reunited with Jim.
I was so sorry to hear that Caroll Spinney had passed away. Sesame Street and the Muppets were a great source of entertainment and of solace to me in an often difficult childhood, and Big Bird’s kindness, decency and optimism were an example to us all. Oscar was an example to us all too, but in a different way! Watching clips now, I still find it amazing that one guy performed both characters, as I can’t hear any similarities in the voices at all. So many great moments – Bedtime Stories and Songs on video, Ask Oscar, his phone switchboard when he didn’t want to talk to anybody – pure joy. RIP Caroll, I never met you but you made a lot of us very happy – and inspired us to create content for children ourselves. Bless you.
Thank you so much for everything — you helped change the world for the better. To Caroll’s family, thank you for sharing him with us.
One of the most genuinely kind people I have ever met. He lived through his characters, and made the world better for it. There will never be another. Rest well, Good Sir.
About 6 years ago I had gotten very sick, very quickly. Without telling the whole long story, we came to find out I was HIV+. I nearly died. I was in the hospital, in isolation so I didn’t get sick and very lonely.
Muppets got me through a lot of hard days. So, naturally when I found out one of my idols was coming to my city I had to be there! I met Mr. Spinney at a showing of Follow That Bird here in Pittsburgh. I was too weak to walk on my own and very frail. He helped me to stand for a picture, he hugged me, he heard my story. He listened. At that stage of recovery I was still shocked that anyone would be near me let alone hug me (silly I know). Mr. Spinney reminded me that we’re all human. He was such an astounding man with a glorious heart. I will miss his spirit.
I met Caroll Spinney in 2011, at New York Comic-Con, just a couple of months after I moved to New York, a city I fell in love with partially because of Sesame Street. (The other huge portion was Muppets Take Manhattan. I’m very on brand sometimes). I hadn’t planned on doing any “pay for an autograph” tables, but when I saw that Mr. Spinney was there, I just had to. I didn’t want the signed picture (though it’s very nice); I just wanted 5 minutes in the presence of this man who meant so much to me.
When I approached the table, he asked me my name. “I had a very good friend named Jim,” he replied to me. Through fighting back tears, I told him how much the work that he and everyone one on the show, and the rest of the Henson projects, whether he was involved or not, meant to me, and shaped the person and artist that I was, and continued to do so, even at the (then) age of 29. I especially thanked him for the episode where Mr. Hooper passes away, as watching it again as an adult helped me get through the untimely passing of my friend and mentor to brain cancer a few years prior. When I chuckled at the being an adult part of that, he took my hand, and told me that Big Bird was there to remind the child in all of us how to live some times, and that he was happy to have helped.
As I was getting ready to leave his booth, he took my hand again, and said, “You’re a creative type, right? I can tell. And I’m sure you know Jim [Henson]’s philosophies on how and why to create art. Make sure you live up to the name.”
And I have tried to. Before then, but especially ever since. I’ve got some big artistic work coming up; I’ll strive through the whole thing to “live up to the name,” and to remember that, sometimes things have to happen, “just because.”
Much love to Mr. Spinney’s wife, Debra, and to his whole family, and to the entire Sesame Street family. My heart goes out to Matt Vogel, who had taken on the mantle of Big Bird more often in recent years, and full time, with Carroll’s blessing and approval upon his retirement. You’re doing a great job, and I’m sure Mr. Spinney loves what you’re doing with the ever-6-year-old bird.
Thank you for all that you’ve done to support and educate children. I grew up in the 70s on Sesame Street and loved all that it represented and taught me. At that time, my family did not have cable. To this day, it’s some of the best and caring show on TV.
Thank you for the memories, Caroll!!
Like many, I am saddened by the loss of Caroll Spinney. I was disappointed that I never got to meet him, I came very close this year when it was announced he was going to be at a con near me, but ended up canceling it (along with most of his other con appearances).
As a kid, I used to think that he only performed Big Bird and Oscar, as the credits listed “Caroll Spinney as Big Bird and Oscar”. When I first got the internet, I looked at a Muppet performers page and was surprised to see another character listed, Sam the Robot, then years later I saw that Jerry Nelson was the performer before finally finding that the two alternated on the character. Then I was surprised to see that he performed Bruno, a character associated with Oscar, but quickly figured out how it was done based on that info. And as I learned that he did many Anything Muppets in the first two seasons (though most from segments I was unfamiliar with), I had wondered for a long time why he did so few additional characters (and when hearing characters whose voices I couldn’t identify, especially from early seasons, I kept wondering, “is this Caroll Spinney?”). And I eventually learned that he was a little uncomfortable performing Anything Mupets alongside Jim Henson and Frank Oz.
I bought his book, The Wisdom of Big Bird, on the day it came out, and it was a wonderful book. I have a lot of favorite moments with his characters, such as Big Bird singing “I’m So Blue” in Follow That Bird, “A Very Special Letter” on The Muppets Alphabet Album, or “The Christmas Song” in A Muppet Family Christmas, Oscar singing “Grouch Anthem” or “Trash Outta Heaven”, and nearly any time Oscar has appeared with a celebrity guest. You could say I like Oscar better than Big Bird.
I’m gonna miss Caroll Spinney, but at least he brought us 50 enjoyable years of great memories.
My husband Gaspar and I had the great privilege of meeting Caroll Spinney in 2010 at New York Comic Con. He was so kind, signed autographs, drew for us and took pictures. After meeting him, as we walked away, he said goodbye to us in his Big Bird voice! We spun around and he smiled. We turned back and then he said goodbye as Oscar! We turned around again and he waved. He was a lovely, kind man who was truly talented. Thankful for all he gave the world. Rest in peace, Caroll Spinney.
I’ve never met Caroll before, but I (much like most people around the world) have been extremely inspired and entertained by his work since I was born, even before knowing his name. Being a Muppet fan, I’ve always looked up to the Muppet Performers, as they are an extremely underrated group of performers. They’re not just ‘the voices’, they are ACTORS. And Caroll is no exception. How many people can roller skate, sing, and be funny whilst in a bird suit or trash can. Both Big Bird and Oscar are some of Sesame Street’s greatest characters, and two of my favourites. ‘Follow That Bird’ still remains one of my favourite films, and most of that comes from Caroll’s passionate performances and dedication to these lovable characters. He has been, and will continue to be, one of my biggest inspirations. Although I know that both of these creations are in good hands, and will live on, Caroll will deeply be missed. My heart goes out to his family and friends.
So sorry to hear of Mr Spinneys passing. I grew up watching as did many of my friends and family. I wrote a short poem and hope you like it;
That yellow feather.
Trailing through the air gracefully
Children’s laughter clings softly
As it floats down years
Parents show the way it glides
Remembering how it felt inside
Gentle and safe with lessons too
How it’s always better to share
With friends old and new
Or how it’s okay to just feel blue.
Warm yellow, soft and light
Deserving of rest after such
A Wondrous flight.
As a child born in 1972, I was one of many that had two parents that had to work in order to make ends meet. While my Mom and Dad were at work, I stayed with an older Aunt and Uncle, my days were filled with watching Sesame Street. I am an only child and I clung to the idea of lots of kids sharing their days with colorful, caring and creative people…and creatures.
I am from the age of Sesame when only Big Bird could see Snuffy. I would wait with anticipation every time Big Bird and Snuffy were together, hoping that MAYBE that day would be the day that someone else believed Big Bird and then they too could see Snuffy.
Like most kids, I was invested in the characters and their relationships. I can still remember the day that Bob had to explain to Big Bird that Mr. Hooper had passed away. I was eleven years old *too old to be watching Sesame Street, some might say* but I still would tune in from time to time, and this particular episode was heartbreaking. I remember sitting on my couch, tears running down my face, feeling so upset that Mr. Hooper had passed and upset that Big Bird was so sad. The interaction between Bob and Big Bird was comforting. As a child I hadn’t lost anyone close to me before.
As I grew up, I appreciated the education that Sesame Street help to teach me. I can still remember jingles and skits that were on the show, and they still make me smile.
I’ll never forget Big Bird speaking at Jim Henson’s funeral. I was a senior in high school and I wept the entire time. Having Big Bird speak was so moving, I remember talking to my friends at school about it, because we all watched. Again, Sesame Street helped to comfort us in a time of sorrow.
I went to school to become a teacher. I’m a Special Education teacher. I was teaching a fifth grade class of Learning Support students on 9/11. Our world changed that day, my students looked to me to help them understand why, and I didn’t have an answer, but I knew where to turn. I recorded the episode of Sesame Street where 9/11 was discussed and I shared that with my class. I explained to my kids that even though they were “older” kids, I wanted them to watch the episode with me. When the episode was over, we all felt a little calmer.
This is now my 21st year of teaching. I now teach a high school level Life Skills class. Just two weeks ago we read a “News 2 You” magazine about Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary. I shared my love of the show and characters with my students, I pulled up Youtube videos and sang along to “C is for Cookie” and “Doing the Pigeon” and of course “Sing”. I shared all of my stories and memories about the show and characters. We watched several videos specifically about Carroll Spinney, they were amazed at how he maneuvered Big Bird and really made him come alive. Sadly the other day I had to share with them the new that Mr. Spinney had passed away, and I immediately turned to videos of tributes and people sharing their memories of him. Hopefully somewhere Mr. Hooper and Big Bird are together again.
Carroll Spinney had been such a comfort to me on my autism journey through his characters on Sesame Street. Whenever I had meltdowns I could always watch him to help subside them, and the meltdowns would stop soon after. I am thankful that I got to send in a video message for him during Below the Frame thanks to Matt Vogel. I never got to have his artwork or autograph but i’m still glad I got to watch him portraying my Sesame Street friends.
We had the pleasure to meet Mr. Spinney and his amazing wife this year in Detroit for the Great Lakes Comic Convention. Although he wasn’t feeling well, he greeted my 3 boys with smiles, and signed some. If his drawings for them.. We were lucky to take pictures with him and to just have that moment. Mr. Spinney was an amazing talent, he brought Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life. He has educated and entertained millions of people throughout the years.
Here are 2 pieces I wrote in honor of Caroll. An acrostic, and a sonnet poem;
A Caroll Acrostic
A Spinney Sonnet
O Caroll Spinney, how you changed the world
Lo, fifty years ago on PBS
Befriending ev’ry boy and ev’ry girl
And bringing untold joy and happiness
Your yellow feathered friend became a star
Inquisitive of all upon his street
His innocence reached round the world so far
And ev’ry child wished Big Bird they could meet
Cantankerous and dwelling in a can
Was Oscar with his grouchy, prickly soul
His crabbiness was something we could stand
Because deep down his heart was there, of gold
O Caroll, how we mourn that you are gone
But in our hearts you always will live on
It’s astounding to think that Caroll’s life ended so soon after he reached his retirement goal, not to mention 1 month after Sesame Street officially turned 50. Several days later it’s still hard to sink in.
Congratulations on outstanding career and RIP Caroll Spinney. I can’t think any diehard Muppet fan that won’t miss you. Please say hi to all the other actors, Muppet performers, writers, directors and anybody else who worked on Sesame Street that’s no longer with us. I hope you have a lovely (or rotten) time catching up with them.
What I wish to say about Caroll was actually one of the most-beautiful and tear-jerking songs he sang as Big Bird. It was “One Little Star”. This song makes my heart melt and makes me think of those I love and miss when I look up at the night sky, just thinking about them like Big Bird thinking of everyone he loves on Sesame Street. Now, we’ll look up at the night sky and “One Little Star” could be Caroll Spinney. He will be missed and loved always as Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.
I don’t think there is a celebrity who had a bigger effect on my life than Caroll Spinney.
I was still in elementary school, and having a VERY BAD YEAR – the kind of year kids in elementary school aren’t supposed to have, but sometimes do.
By good fortune, and an irrepressible habit of talking to strangers, I somehow landed in the middle of a traveling show put on by the Children’s Television Workshop and the New York Pops orchestra. I spent the day with the conductor and his wife, walking around downtown Edmonton, meeting the CTW crew, and Caroll Spinney – Big Bird!
We hit it off immediately. That was his gift: he had, of course, devoted his life to connecting with children. He wasn’t in costume at the time so – invisible to his fans – he had the leisure to spend an hour with me, answering question after question after question. That evening, the conductor and Big Bird hosted a concert in a big top tent, down in the river valley. I watched from the front row with Caroll’s wife, Debra, who between acts would tell me about what life was like in the Sesame Street world.
When we parted company that evening, Caroll gave me an autograph, and a bright yellow feather. I have carried it around with me for almost forty years. When James and I first began to realize we had something good and lasting, it was the first gift I gave to him. It hangs in our kitchen.
The lesson I learned from Caroll Spinney, is that you can decide the kind of person you want to be. The character he played for fifty years was organized around two principles: kindness and curiosity. It took me some years to figure that out, but in doing so, I took those two principles as my own.
The curious part is easy. The kind part…. needs frequent tweaks. But I am the better for having chosen to try.
I thought I would be sad when I eventually learned of Caroll Spinney’s death. This evening, I have nothing but gratitude.
Like many children, Sesame Street was my favorite television show growing up. Yes, the series taught me my numbers and letters, but most importantly, I learned to carry a tune thanks to hearing Oscar the Grouch sing “I Love Trash.” This eventually led to me singing in various choirs and shows throughout my school years. Even to this day, I still love to sing.
In 2015, I met Caroll Spinney at the Museum of the Moving Image, where I was lucky enough to speak with him for a few minutes. I told him about my experience with “I Love Trash.” I thanked him, and towards the end of our meeting, he said to me, “keep singing.” This was truly a day I will never forget.
Thank you for the wonderful kindness you shared with me, Caroll. I am truly grateful.
As a lifelong Sesame Street fan, I was so sad to see the news of Caroll Spinney’s passing. As an infant and toddler, I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned from Big Bird on Sesame Street, whether by watching the TV series or by watching numerous videos over and over again. Whether by speech or song, Big Bird always taught me to feel better about myself, to keep on trying, to never give up, and to always ask for help when I needed it.
My favorite song that Big Bird sang was “ABC-DEF-GHI.” I also loved to listen to his snoring any time he fell asleep. In the case of Oscar the Grouch, I learned that it’s OK to be cranky sometimes, because we ALL get that way every now and then. The story of how Oscar got his personality and voice was very unique. I also vividly remember Bruno, who carried Oscar’s trash can, despite almost always being silent. The bottom line is that through his characters, Caroll Spinney gave me countless laughs, expanded my mind, and taught me so many valuable life lessons.
I can’t begin to describe how much I will miss him, even though I never met him in person. May God Bless him, his family, his friends, and his colleagues and co-stars in this sad time. I’m sure he’s in Heaven, where it’s always a “sunny day, sweeping the clouds away.”
I was so sad to hear of my long-ago pen pal, CaroLl Spinney’s, passing today. He was such a lovely man, even sending me a letter while he was on vacation in New Zealand. Mr. Spinney also sent me drawings of Big Bird and Oscar through the mail without my even asking, although he did send one that I asked for when a special little girl in my life turned three years old.
Our notes to one another started back in the early 2000’s. I had written him to tell him a story from my childhood. I am literally the same age as Sesame Street almost to the week, and Big Bird was probably my first love. When I was about three years old, my salesman father took me on a run to a doctor’s office where he had to bring some sort of medical equipment. In this doctor’s office were two boxes; a brand new Big Bird was in one and Cookie Monster was in the other. The doctor allowed me to choose one and, of course, I took Big Bird. That Big Bird was my companion and I carried him everywhere until he basically fell apart. Unfortunately I have no pictures of me with that doll.
I finally got to meet him in October 2016, and he so sweetly put his hand on my face as his wife, Debra, told me that my letters were probably still in the files at home. I know he had looked like he wasn’t well for the last several years, and had finally retired last year, giving up the convention circuit earlier this year, so I’m glad to have had the chance to meet him. I’m sure Big Bird & Oscar are a little sadder now, as I am. May he rest in peace.